Hackers hacking the net

Essay by Matias SilvaUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, August 1996

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Valuable information or valuables themselves can be stored in protected areas such as banks, stores, or even computers. Wherever they are, there will always be the threat of a criminal mastermind who will attempt to break into these protected areas. In the modern age of computers, banks are no longer the main target of extracting lucrative amounts of money illegally. In this day and age, computers hold an abundant amount of information that can access money. Criminals who break into computer systems electronically are commonly called 'Hackers'. In today's highly technological computer world, the computer hacker is digging their way through our nation's computer systems to embezzle money, create chaos, manipulate figures, and to seek enjoyment. However, hackers are even used for finding security breeches.

The birth of hackers in the Sixties, shortly came after the advent of elite engineering students who called themselves 'Phreakers' (1). Phreakers would tap the phone lines in order to place a local or long distance phone calls for free.

The motivation came from the Sixties movement to expand tech- nology from the government and large corporations to individuals (1). Phreakers were able to do this because of a mishap by Bell Telephone Systems. Bell published a journal that contained the sequence of multifrequency tones used to place a call (1). This journal was only intended for technicians that worked within the Bell telephone company; however, Bell did not realize that most engineering schools also subscribed to the technical journal (1). Before Bell realized their mistake, it had been photo copied and passed around to many other students before the journal got recalled. These engineering students then developed a box, which every Phreaker refered to it as the 'Blue Box' (1). The Blue Box would mimic tones that are used by the telephone company.

The origin of the term Hacker is believed to come from students at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), they developed Hacker from the phrase 'Hack Writer'(2). A Hack writer describes a person that would hack at the typewriter until he or she finished their story.

The first generation of Hackers from the Sixties just experimented with software and electronic hardware (3). A computer Hacker would hack computer code, for example he would write pieces of software until it was completed. As Hackers became more knowledgeable, they would attempt to hack into the network structure that tied the government's computers with some of the university laboratory computers.

It wasn't until the second generation of Hackers called the 'War Games' generation, which was during the Eighties, that the increasing threat of Hackers breaking into these computer systems increased (3). The Hackers would break-in to gain, alter or destroy information. Hackers would install a 'Computer Virus' or a 'Trojan Horse' that assists the Hacker by altering or Destroying information automatically (5). This created havoc on those who maintained large computer systems. The Eighties generation of Hackers were also labeled 'Crackers' by the Sixties generation for the ability to crack password codes (3).

The third, and current generation Hackers are interested in spreading information for everybody to use, which was the first generation's intentions (3). Hackers of the third generation have been labeled 'Cyberpunks' by the Internet community, which is a vast global network of computers hooked up by a phone line.

Hackers break into computer systems because it is a challenge to do so. The greater the security measures taken by the Government and private companies, the more dangerous, and the more exiting it gets for the Hacker. Many Hackers have no respect for copyright laws that were enacted by the United States government to protect software corporations. Hackers believe that all information and services should available at their fingertips and that every thing should be free for the individual.

Many Hackers actually profit from their hacking ability. Some Hackers are hired to steal information from corporations (5). Employees in a managerial level may 'secretly hire' a Hacker to steal their competitors secret files in order to gain an advantage in their product development and marketing strategies. Hackers are also used to obtain information from other countries, especially those interested in America's Top Secret Information. A Hacker may hold a job with the U.S. government to try to steal information from other countries. Of course corporations and countries will never admit this. There have been cases of where hackers who acquire and that work for themselves sold Top Secret information on their own. Hackers are not only hired to break in to systems but they also are hired to protect or write secure software for systems. Netscape, a communications corp-oration based in Mountain View CA had offered a $1,000 reward to any Hacker who could find a significant security breech in their popular 'web browser' (6).

Hackers are compelled to break into government agencies such as the FBI, CIA, Secret Service and even the highest of them all the NSA (National Security Agency). Hackers enjoy hacking onto major 'online' services (normally called servers) that allow easy access to the Internet such as America Online, Compuserve and Prodigy. Hackers break into these government organizations or Internet servers to gain knowledge of Government secrets or steal credit card numbers. Netscape's 'web browser' forced companies to shut down access to the Internet because of a security breech (6). The subscribing companies feared that hackers would hack their way into their system and steal credit card information from consumers (6).

(4)In February of 1995, Kevin Mitnick, a world renounded Super Cracker, was finally apprehended after evading the FBI for nearly fifteen years. The FBI was aided by Tsutomu Shimomura, a computer security expert, who's own computer was always under attack by Mitnick. He was charged for stealing sensitive personel files and copying over 20,000 credit card numbers from credit card companies. 'Mitnick could have disrupted the global computer matrix known as the Internet' says Katie Hafner from Esquire magazine (4). Mitnick ended only serving eight months in jail.

Many Hackers have the ability to infiltrate computer systems undetected. Hackers have another way of trying to retrieve passwords other than trying to crack a code. Hackers often 'pretend' to be a technician or an engineer and become 'buddies' with a real engineer, sooner or later the two swap passwords (3). The real engineer never realized what happened until it was too late, and the hacker already got what he wanted. Many of these conversations take place over the phone, with the Hacker being careful not to reveal his identity. This method of password gathering is called 'Social Engineering' (3). With the Passwords he can now move about the companies computer network. Some Hackers often find them selves digging inside a company's dumpster searching for clues left behind on paper. Hackers can break-in to a company's computer system for a brief period and install a 'Password Sniffer' (5). The Password Sniffer records all the names and pass-words that are logged onto the company's network. Later the Hacker can 'spoof' their way through the company's computer network undetected. Spoofing is when a Hacker disguises his computer to simulate a regular employee logging on to the network by using the password recorded earlier by the Sniffer.

There will always be an ongoing battle between hackers and computer security specialists. The battle does not only take place with in the United States but is a world wide event.

Other countries, as well as the United States, have a computer crimes squad to combat the hacking problem. While researching the information, I came upon a web page on the Internet that belongs to a hacker. On his web page he had a list passwords that belonged to government agencies. To add to the passwords, he supplied some useful software that hackers use to gain entry. When I first read this, I was so astonished how easily accessible this type of information is. No wonder people who are interested in hacking can get an early jump on it.