Do You Really Know What a Hacker Is?

Once you hear the Word ‘hacker’, your first thought is of popular movies such as War Games and the popular new TV series, I, Robot, where the protagonists are these computer experts whose unassuming looks betray their knowledge of network information, capable of finding vulnerabilities in the strongest of systems, including the Pentagon’s.

Hacker: Good boy or bad boy?

Despite always making sure to keep safe when it comes to our smartphones — which may contain our banking passwords or private photos for our eyes only — as well as our home computers, so that we not lose our information, it has become increasingly common for big names and companies to be hacked, exposing them to public opinion and stealing important data.

Nowadays the word ‘hacker’ does more than identify a person: it also defines an action, used as a verb, far removing it from the origins of this often-hated, sometimes admired character.

Hacks were the pranks Tech Model Railroad Club students played on one another, a group that, in the early ‘60s, gravitated towards the interactive possibilities of the PDP-1 microcomputer. The machine remained on all night, letting these guys experiment. It is known that the Spacewar videogame was born during one of these experiments.

By the time the new PDP-10 came out, the same M.I.T. students attacked the new processing system’s O.S., creating a new one called I.T.S. (Incompatible Timesharing System).

At the beginning, this community used the ‘hacker’ name alongside the launch of the free software movement, accrediting it with the creation of the Internet and the World Wide Web. However, when in 1962 the Department of Defense launches Arpanet, a high-velocity communications system is created, linking universities, investigation labs and Defense contractors, among others, reuniting all hackers to both give them an identity and space to generate more programming ideas.

Heroes of the Computer Revolution

Stephen Levy was the first one to, in his book, speak of the hacker’s ethic as one that promotes free access to information and software source code. He also identified the first 6 main principles through which hackers operate, based on interviews. For example:

  1. Computer Access must be absolute, as well as unlimited
  2. All information must be free
  3. It is necessary to promote de-centralization and mistrust authorities
  4. Hackers must be judged by their work, not their race, age or social status
  5. Art and beauty can be created with a computer
  6. Computers can improve your life

Many have used their knowledge to find system vulnerabilities in order to strengthen them. Years ago, the pentagon launched a contest in which they asked participants to find their vulnerabilities, a particularly attractive challenge considering the types of information the Department of Defense keeps.

Nowadays, there exists a classification of hacker-types, made according to the goals they have in the execution of their craft. These are known as:

  • White-hat hacker, one that penetrates systems defense mechanisms in order to protect them from any attacks, depending on the company they work for.
  • Black-hat hacker, also known as ‘Cracker’. Their aim is to violate a safety system. Their main motivation is the acquisition of information, the creation of viruses that enter and destroy systems, either from sheer pleasure out of seeing information be destroyed, or benefit.
  • Grey-hat hacker, those with the same skills as the black-hats. They penetrate systems and identify problems in exchange for monetary compensation.
  • Golden-hat hacker, uses technology to violate a computer system with the purpose of informing about main-system vulnerabilities. He breaks into systems to test himself.

In Venezuela, the most known gold-hat hacker was RAFA NÚÑEZ, who warned the U.S.A. Department of Defense that the F-16 training system had an open safety window that was vulnerable to attacks. Currently, he uses his knowledge to prevent online attacks against minors.

Rafael Núñez is the MásQueDigital and MásQueSeguridad director, and is often invited to share his knowledge in conferences and workshops where he speaks about the importance of protecting information.