Hacker (computer security)
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- See also: Hacker
Hacker in a security context refers to a type of computer hacker who is involved in computer security/insecurity and is able to exploit systems or gain unauthorized access through skills, tactics and detailed knowledge.
In the most common general usage, "hacker" refers to a black-hat hacker (a malicious or criminal hacker). There are also ethical hackers (more commonly referred to as white hats), and ethically ambiguous grey hats. The terms for these subcategories are not in the same general use.
Similar, synonymous and related terms, which are not mutually exclusive, or universally accepted:
- Hacker may mean simply a person with mastery of computers; however the mass media most often uses "hacker" as synonymous with a (usually criminal) computer intruder. See hacker, and Hacker definition controversy.
- White hat: An ethical hacker who breaks security but who does so for altruistic or at least non-malicious reasons. White hats generally have a clearly defined code of ethics, and will often attempt to work with a manufacturer or owner to improve discovered security weaknesses, although many reserve the implicit or explicit threat of public disclosure after a "reasonable" time as a prod to ensure timely response from a corporate entity. The term is also used to describe hackers who work to deliberately design and code more secure systems. To white hats, the darker the hat, the more the ethics of the activity can be considered dubious. Conversely, black hats may claim the lighter the hat, the more the ethics of the activity are lost.
- Grey hat: A hacker of ambiguous ethics and/or borderline legality, often frankly admitted.
- Blue Hat: Refers to outside computer security consulting firms that are used to bug test a system prior to its launch, looking for exploits so they can be closed. The term has also been associated with a roughly annual security conference by Microsoft, the unofficial name coming from the blue color associated with Microsoft employee badges. Also see Big Blue.
- Black Hat: Someone who subverts computer security without authorization or who uses technology (usually a computer or the Internet) for terrorism, vandalism, credit card fraud, identity theft, intellectual property theft, or many other types of crime. This can mean taking control of a remote computer through a network, or software cracking.
- A black hat hacker. Often used to differentiate black hat hackers and the general (positive) sense of hacker. The use of the term began to spread around 1983, probably introduced both due to similar phonetic sound and as construction from the historical slang of safe cracker. Also theorized by some to be a portmanteau of the words criminal and hacker.
- A security hacker who uses password cracking or brute force attacks. Related to the term safe cracker.
- A software cracker. A person specialized in working around copy protection mechanisms in software. Note that software crackers are not involved in exploiting networks, but copy protected software.
- Script kiddie: A pejorative term for a computer intruder with little or no skill; a person who simply follows directions or uses a cook-book approach without fully understanding the meaning of the steps they are performing.
- Hacktivist is a hacker who utilizes technology to announce a political message. Web vandalism is not necessarily hacktivism.
There are several recurring tools of the trade used by computer criminals and security experts:
- Security exploit
- A prepared application that takes advantage of a known weakness.
- Packet sniffer
- An application that captures TCP/IP data packets, which can maliciously be used to capture passwords and other data while it is in transit either within the computer or over the network.
- A toolkit for hiding the fact that a computer's security has been compromised. Root kits may include replacements for system binaries so that it becomes impossible for the legitimate user to detect the presence of the intruder on the system by looking at process tables.
- Social engineering
- Convincing other people to provide some form of information about a system, often under false premises. A blatant example would be asking someone for their password or account possibly over a beer or by posing as someone else. A more subtle example would be asking for promotional material or technical references about a company's systems, possibly posing as a journalist.
- Trojan horse
- These are programs designed so that they seem to do or be one thing, such as a legitimate software, but actually are or do another. They are not necessarily malicious programs. A trojan horse can be used to set up a back door in a computer system so that the intruder can return later and gain access. Viruses that fool a user into downloading and/or executing them by pretending to be useful applications are also sometimes called trojan horses. (The name refers to the horse from the Trojan War, with conceptually similar function of deceiving defenders into bringing an intruder inside.) See also Dialer.
- A virus is a self-replicating program that spreads by inserting copies of itself into other executable code or documents. Thus, a computer virus behaves in a way similar to a biological virus, which spreads by inserting itself into living cells.
- Vulnerability scanner
- A tool used to quickly check computers on a network for known weaknesses. Hackers also commonly use port scanners. These check to see which ports on a specified computer are "open" or available to access the computer, and sometimes will detect what program or service is listening on that port, and it's version number. (Note that firewalls defend computers from intruders by limiting access to ports/machines both inbound and outbound, but can still be circumvented.)
- Like a virus, a worm is also a self-replicating program. The difference between a virus and a worm is that a worm does not create multiple copies of itself on one system: it propagates through computer networks. After the comparison between computer viruses and biological viruses, the obvious comparison here is to a bacterium. Many people conflate the terms "virus" and "worm", using them both to describe any self-propagating program. It is possible for a program to have the blunt characteristics of both a worm and a virus.
- Firewall (networking) In computing, a firewall is a piece of hardware and/or software which functions in a networked environment to prevent some communications forbidden by the security policy, analogous to the function of firewalls in building construction.
- Intrusion Detection System (IDS), generally detects unwanted manipulations to systems. There are many different types of IDS, some of them are described here. The manipulations may take the form of attacks by skilled malicious hackers, or Script kiddies using automated tools.
- Anti-virus software consists of computer programs that attempt to identify, thwart and eliminate computer viruses and other malicious software (malware).
- Encryption is used to protect your message from the eyes of others. It can be done in several ways by switching the characters around, replacing characters with others, and even removing characters from the message. These have to be used in combination to make the encryption secure enough, that is to say, sufficiently difficult to crack.
- Authorization restricts access to a computer to group of users through the use of authentication systems. These systems can protect either the whole computer - such as through an interactive logon screen - or individual services, such as an FTP server.
- Vulnerability scanner and port scanner tool used to quickly check computers on a network for known weaknesses and ports available to access a computer over a network.
Notable intruders and criminal hackers
- Jonathan James (also known as comrade) was most notably recognized for the theft of software which controlled the International Space Station's life sustaining elements, as well as intercepting dozens of electronic messages relating to U.S. nuclear activities from the Department of Defense
- Mark Abene (also known as Phiber Optik) — Inspired thousands of teenagers around the country to "study" the internal workings of the United States phone system. One of the founders of the Masters of Deception group.
- Dark Avenger — Bulgarian virus writer that invented polymorphic code in 1992 as a mean to circumvent the type of pattern recognition used by Anti-virus software, and nowadays also intrusion detection systems.
- John Draper (also known as Captain Crunch) — Draper is widely credited with evangelizing the use of the 2600 hertz tone generated by whistles distributed in Captain Crunch cereal boxes in the 1970s, and sometimes inaccurately credited with discovering their use. Draper served time in prison for his work, and is believed to have introduced Steve Wozniak to phone phreaking through the 2600hz tone. Draper now develops anti-spam and security software.
- Markus Hess — A West German, he hacked into United States Military sites and collected information for the KGB; he was eventually tracked down by Clifford Stoll.
- Roberto Baroni Italian Ethical Hacker '90s.
- Adrian Lamo — Lamo surrendered to federal authorities in 2003 after a brief manhunt, and was charged with nontechnical but surprisingly successful intrusions into computer systems at Microsoft, The New York Times, Lexis-Nexis, MCI WorldCom, SBC, Yahoo!, and others. His methods were controversial, and his full-disclosure-by-media practices led some to assert that he was publicity-motivated.
- Vladimir Levin — This mathematician allegedly masterminded the Russian hacker gang that tricked Citibank's computers into spitting out $10 million. To this day, the method used is unknown.
- Kevin Mitnick — Held in jail without bail for a long period of time. Inspired the Free Kevin movement. Once "the most wanted man in cyberspace", Mitnick went on to be a prolific public speaker, author, and media personality. Mitnick Security Consulting, LLC is a full-service information security consulting firm. Founded by Kevin Mitnick, Mitnick Security Consulting offers a comprehensive range of services to help businesses protect their valuable assets.
- Robert Tappan Morris — In 1988 while a graduate student at Cornell University, Morris was the creator of the first worm, Morris Worm, which used buffer overflows to propagate. He is the son of Robert Morris, the former chief scientist at the National Computer Security Center, a division of the National Security Agency (NSA).
- Nahshon Even-Chaim (also known as Phoenix) — Leading member of Australian hacking group The Realm. Targeted US defence and nuclear research computer systems in late 1980s until his capture by Australian Federal Police in 1990. He and fellow Realm members Electron and Nom were the world's first computer intruders prosecuted based on evidence gathered from remote computer intercept.
- Kevin Poulsen — In 1990 Poulsen took over all telephone lines going into Los Angeles area radio station KIIS-FM to win an automobile in a call-in contest. Poulsen went on to a career in journalism, including several years as editorial director at SecurityFocus.
- David L. Smith — In 1999 Smith launched the Melissa Worm, causing $80 million dollars worth of damage to businesses. Originally sentenced to 40 years, he eventually served only 20 months when he agreed to work undercover for the FBI.
- Craig Neidorf — In 1990, Neidorf (a co-founder of Phrack) was prosecuted for stealing the E911 document from BellSouth and publicly distributing it online. BellSouth claimed that the document was worth $80,000; they dropped the charges after it was revealed that copies of the document could simply be ordered for a minuscule $13.
Notable Security Hackers
- Eric Corley (also known as Emmanuel Goldstein) — Long standing publisher of 2600: The Hacker Quarterly and founder of the H.O.P.E. conferences. He has been part of the hacker community since the late '70s.
- Fyodor — The author of Nmap and STC.
- Roberto Baroni Italian Ethical Hacker '90s.
- Johan "Julf" Helsingius — Operated the world's most popular anonymous remailer, the Penet remailer (called penet.fi), until he closed up shop in September 1996.
- Tsutomu Shimomura — Shimomura helped catch Kevin Mitnick, the United States' most infamous computer intruder, in early 1994. He is the co-author of a book about the Mitnick case, Takedown: The Pursuit and Capture of Kevin Mitnick, America's Most Wanted Computer Outlaw-By the Man Who Did It (ISBN 0-7868-8913-6).
- Solar Designer — Founder of the Openwall Project.
- Michał Zalewski (lcamtuf) — Prominent security researcher.
- Farid Essebar — (also known as Diabl0), the creator of Zotob
Hacker cons have drawn more and more people every year including SummerCon (Summer), DEF CON, HoHoCon (Christmas), PumpCon (Halloween), H.O.P.E. (Hackers on Planet Earth) and HEU (Hacking at the End of the Universe).
- Hacker definition controversy
- White hat
- Grey hat
- Black hat
- Computer security
- Computer insecurity
- System administrator
- Computer crime
- Hacking/Carding in the Philippines
Movies about fictional hackers
- Enemy of the State
- The Net
- The Matrix series
- Clifford Stoll (1990). The Cuckoo’s Egg. The Bodley Head Ltd. ISBN 0-370-31433-6.
- Code Hacking: A Developer's Guide to Network Security by Richard Conway, Julian Cordingley
- Kevin Beaver. Hacking For Dummies.
- Katie Hafner & John Markoff (1991). Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-68322-5.
- David H. Freeman & Charles C. Mann (1997). @ Large: The Strange Case of the World’s Biggest Internet Invasion. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-82464-7.
- Suelette Dreyfus (1997). Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier. Mandarin. ISBN 1-86330-595-5.
- Bill Apro & Graeme Hammond (2005). Hackers: The Hunt for Australia’s Most Infamous Computer Cracker. Five Mile Press. ISBN 1-74124-722-5.
- Stuart McClure, Joel Scambray & George Kurtz (1999). Hacking Exposed. Mcgraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-212127-0.
- "2600: The Hacker Quarterly"
- "Binary Revolution Magazine 2006"
- "Blacklisted 411"
Categories: Computer hacking | Criminology topics