Computer Hacking

Addendum Written by Ginger Kastor, Millburn C.C. School, Wadsworth, Illinois
Original by David M. Stone, University Laboratory High School, Urbana, IL

One fraudulent act that is illegal in some ways and helpful in others is hacking. Hacking is basically knowing programmable systems and how they work. How can hacking be helpful? Some agencies hire hackers to show them the downfalls in their security system so they can improve it against hackers that want information or access into the computer for other reasons. Hacking is a form of art for some people. Hackers have formed groups and even have conferences together to share their knowledge and abilities. Hackers started with gaining access to free telephone calls through different sources and learning more about the internal workings of the nation's phone system and radios in the mid 1950's. When computers were introduced, hackers found a new communication system to learn more about. This is generally of interest to teenagers and young adults. Self-taught hackers are generally more accepted in their "society" more openly than educated hackers. Some famous hackers have gone on to create computer systems, such as Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson creating UNIX operating system. Other kinds of hackers, known as crackers, have found their ways into federal prison for their work.
Educators can warn students about the complications of the works of hackers and crackers. By educating students about hackers, they can take proper steps in trying to secure themselves from having their information stolen or their computers broken into by unauthorized people to the best of their ability. The educators can also show students that they are ultimately in control of their actions on the computer. Their actions, if illegal, can get them into major trouble. Educators can talk to students about the consequences of their actions and talk openly about computer ethics. The students should be able to discuss right from wrong on the computer and Internet as well as other parts of their lives.
Minimizing Potential
One way to minimize the consequences of having a hacker is by protecting the computer system. This is comparable to locking you doors to your house when you leave so you know that breaking and entering is illegal, but that doesn't mean that you leave your doors unlocked. Protection against hackers is basically the same thing. First the software has to be safe and stable so you can rely on it being secure. The second part is the government's job of certifying that the software used is really tested and reliable for the commonwealth interest. Lastly, have firewalls in place and make sure that encryption and other protection are used to have information remain private. By educators and other computer owners using these three steps, the hackers will have a more difficult time getting information that is supposed to remain private.

By discussing computer ethics with students, educators are opening the eyes of their students and making them think about their actions on the computer. Here are some issues to help educators get started in discussing ethics with their students:

The Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics by the Computer Ethics Institute:

1. Thou shalt not use a computer to harm other people.

2. Thou shalt not interfere with other people's computer work.

3. Thou shalt not snoop around in other people's computer files.

4. Thou shalt not use a computer to steal.

5. Thou shalt not use a computer to bear false witness.

6. Thou shalt not copy or use proprietary software for which you have not paid.

7. Thou shalt not use other people's computer resources without authorization or proper compensation.

8. Thou shalt not appropriate other people's intellectual output.

9. Thou shalt think about the social consequences of the program you are writing or the system you are designing.

10. Thou shalt always use a computer in ways that insure consideration and respect for your fellow humans.

Legal Implications
Some hackers feel that they are no more than explorers out to see how far they can get into other computer systems. Some of them use their skills to help companies and agencies to find errors in their computer security system. Others, usually known as crackers, are out to find information, change something, or cause damage in other's computer systems.

Hacking is covered under law Title 18: Crimes and Criminal Procedure: Part 1: Crimes: Chapter 47: Fraud and False Statements: Section 1030: Fraud and related activity in connection with computers. The federal punishment for hacking into computers ranges from a fine or imprisonment for no more than one year to a fine and imprisonment for no more than twenty years. This wide range of punishment depends upon the seriousness of the criminal activity and what damage the hacker has done.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is the difference between a hacker and a cracker?

According to The Jargon Lexicon, hackers are defined as the following:
[originally, someone who makes furniture with an axe] 1. A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary. 2. One who programs enthusiastically (even obsessively) or who enjoys programming rather than just theorizing about programming. 3. A person capable of appreciating hack value. 4. A person who is good at programming quickly. 5. An expert at a particular program, or one who frequently does work using it or on it; as in `a Unix hacker'. (Definitions 1 through 5 are correlated, and people who fit them congregate.) 6. An expert or enthusiast of any kind. One might be an astronomy hacker, for example. 7. One who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations. 8. [deprecated] A malicious meddler who tries to discover sensitive information by poking around. Hence `password hacker', `network hacker'. The correct term for this sense is cracker.

Cracker is a person who breaks security on a system. The cracker is looked down upon in the hacker group. The crackers are usually more secretive and have small groups in which they share their knowledge although they like to refer to themselves as hackers. Crackers are potentially more harmful than the true hacker who just wants to know the workings of a system.

Why do hackers consider their work valuable?

Hackers believe that they are just exploring how programmable systems work and that they are not doing anything wrong as long as no theft, vandalism, or breach of confidentiality is broken. The hackers also believe that sharing information is good to do and very powerful. They do not see any harm in sharing resources with each other to gain access into unforbidden places as long as no damage is done.

Annotated Web Site Directory

Active Matrix's Hideaway
This relatively new company brings information to viewers, aimed at business owners, to let them know of daily updates of alerts, news and information. It also provides "all the resources necessary to Protect and Secure (tm) their online presence."

AstaLaVista H/C Search Engine
Here's something new - a search engine designed for hackers. Includes links to all types of software, serial numbers, sniffers, etc.

Computer Hacking Regulationas and Links
This site has a link to the exact wording of the law that puts crackers behind bars.

Concerning Hackers Who Break into Computer Systems
Interesting discussion of hackers, hacker ethics and how hacking relates to issues and practices of an information society.

Ethical Issues Surrounding Technology Use in Elementary Schools
A good resource for teachers who teach students to use to open up discussion of computer ethics with their students.

The Jargon File
This is a site that discusses different areas of being a hacker, including slang terminology, pronunciation guide, hacker writing style, and hacker folklores.

The New Hacker's Dictionary
A resource which introduces the reader to everything from hacker slang, jargon, hacker folklore, writing style and speech style to general appearance, dress, education and personality characteristics. If you are going to examine a single resource regarding hacking, this should be it!

Technology and Pleasure: Considering Hacking Constructive
Fascinating VERY ALTERNATIVE discussion of history of the hacker community and hacker ideology.

TLC Feature: Hackers: Computer Outlaws
Interesting site including hacker hall of fame, history, psychology, cyber defense, lingo and other web links.

Who's Responsible for Improving Security
Many links available to different issues of hackers, such as who they are, the risks they endure, who is responsible, and how to protect yourself from hackers.

2 August 2002

Return to Educator's Guide to Computer Crime and Technology Misuse
Developed 29 July 2002.