Into a hacker's head: Dark side of the IT world

Into a hacker's head: Dark side of the IT world

Summary: This series focuses on the hacker, his personality, his motivations, his rewards, his mentality and his risks. The series explores the people behind the hacks, the tools, the targets and the temptations.

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TOPICS: Security
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For those of you who follow Zero Day, there's something new afoot: A new hacker series. But, this hacker series isn't the standard, "Today this compromise took place" or "Hackers defaced another site." This series focuses on the hacker, his personality, his motivations, his rewards, his mentality and his risks. The series explores the people behind the hacks, the tools, the targets and the temptations. The research for this series has taken me on a new journey into the mysterious and into the enlightening. I've conducted dozens of interviews, compiled a host (no pun intended) of documentation and developed a new respect for security professionals and hackers alike, regardless of affiliation or hat color.

My goal for this series is to inform you and shed new light on this most interesting dark sector of the IT world.

You should come away with new knowledge and ways to protect yourself and the company for which you work. Please enter the conversations, ask questions, provide your own experiences and where appropriate, toss out a few ideas of your own for future posts.

The series begins with an interview with the hacker's hacker and my personal hero: Kevin Mitnick. The series continues with interviews, observations and on-going research into this realm. It also highlights my own hacking experiences with phone freaking, password cracking, airwave hijacking and social engineering.

As a bonus, I also include two stories of my first-hand experience of being hacked.

If you're interested in the underside of hacking, watch for my posts. And, as always, if you have some great first-hand hacking stories, exploits, hijacks or system compromises, contact me and we'll discuss. I'd like to hear stories from both sides of the hack.

I'd like to thank Ryan and Dancho for allowing me to invade their space here on ZDNet with this series. I think you'll find it entertaining, informative and something to anticipate. If you're fascinated by hacking and hackers, stay tuned, it will be an interesting ride.

Topic: Security

About

Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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  • RE: Into a hacker's head: Dark side of the IT world

    Once upon a time I would have considered Mitnick my hero, but nowdays it seems all he is after is book signing deals and for everyone to buy his book, at least that's the way it comes across on Twitter.
    Jayton
    • RE: Into a hacker's head: Dark side of the IT world

      @Jayton

      As an author myself, you must promote your book. You spend a lot of time on it and you want people to buy it.
      khess
    • RE: Into a hacker's head: Dark side of the IT world

      @Jayton
      He didn't hack much at all, he used social engineering and was basically a script kiddie beyond that. And he got caught, which makes him pretty bad at doing what he did.
      bwalker
      • RE: Into a hacker's head: Dark side of the IT world

        @bwalker

        He actually did a LOT of hacking. Bad hackers always get caught. And, he wasn't a script kiddie because there weren't any. Guys like him wrote the scripts that the kiddies use.
        khess
        • mitnick

          @khess

          For someone who claims to have Mitnick as their hero, you don't seem to know alot about him. Mitnick did have skills for breaking into systems but he was not a very good programmer. The term script kiddie may not have been realized around that time period but the script kiddie in concept has always existed. Btw, I'm not calling Mitnick a script kiddie but I very much doubt he wrote any significant code to do system exploitation. In my analysis Mitnick was primarily a phone phreak in a period where digital telephone switches were becoming more and more common the exploits of a stereotypical phone phreak and hacker tend to overlap. Many will be quick to call Mitnick a script kiddie or insult him for his use of social engineering while totally neglecting the phone phreak component. I assume they don't have the skills nor understanding to comprehend the power you can wield when you have access to public telecom network infrastructure.
          tdyz
      • RE: Into a hacker's head: Dark side of the IT world

        edited
        tdyz
    • RE: Into a hacker's head: Dark side of the IT world

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  • RE: Into a hacker's head: Dark side of the IT world

    I think it's great that your post is gender-biased. That means that female hackers will keep getting away with more.
    craftsmyn
    • RE: Into a hacker's head: Dark side of the IT world

      @craftsmyn

      That's the downside of the English language, there's no genderless pronoun besides "one" and I hate it. And, it's awfully cumbersome to say him/her or he/she or any other combo. Sorry, but most hackers are male and that's not a bias, it's a fact. I apologize to all female hackers out there--as I have interviewed female security folk for this series too. I promise to use the feminine pronouns for those. ;-)
      khess
      • RE: Into a hacker's head: Dark side of the IT world

        @khess Well said.
        ricofinelli
      • RE: Into a hacker's head: Dark side of the IT world

        @khess <br>As one of the few female IT professionals out there, it comes as no surprise that most hackers would be male. <br><br>However, for the sake of inclusiveness, there have been some attempts to fix the lack of gender neutral pronouns in English. "Hir" works all right, but I think most people hate "s/he". Some alternatives I've seen are "tse" (from "tsi" which, I am told, is the gender neutral pronoun in Japanese), and "ze".<br><br>However, as one of my friends who is an English History major has commented, "they" and "their" have been used as gender neutral singular pronouns for over 1400 years.

        So I think it may be worth asking people at some point which they think is best. We'd better figure it out before we create an AI that doesn't like being called "it".
        mheartwood
      • RE: Into a hacker's head: Dark side of the IT world

        @mheartwood It's all a matter of taste. If an article must be encumbered with overt attempts at gender neutrality, I'd much rather see 's/he' than 'hir,' which just makes me wince.

        'They' and 'their' do work just fine though, even if they aren't strictly grammatically accurate.
        Ginevra
      • Ken, try a Latin language...

        ...like my native Portuguese (I'm from Brazil). There are many instances where it's absolutely impossible to say something without gender bias. Any attempt to do it will be very troublesome, very lengthy and will sound very awkward.

        French has the pronoun "on" which is equivalent to English "one," but it's an exception among Latin languages, where the concept is almost nonexistant. We don't even have the pronoun "it" - we use "he" ("ele") or "she" ("ela") for things as well, and when something is ambiguous, the masculine form prevails, according to the official grammar rules. For example, if a 747 is flying 400 female passengers and a single man, you say the plane has 401 passengers in the masculine form - same as if there were 401 men...

        Some overzealous people here have started using a supposedly gender-neutral "@" sign (which before e-mail was completely unknown here) to replace the usual gender-marking vowels, but first, that only works in writing, and second, there are always situations where one must decide for a gender anyway. Even the staunchest feminists must follow those grammar rules, so in Portuguese, Spanish or Italian, gender bias in language is much less significant and less observed, otherwise one gets crazy!
        goyta
    • RE: Into a hacker's head: Dark side of the IT world

      @craftsmyn<br><br>That's the curse of using a language that was developed long ago. Just like all the other ones.

      I thought it was a well-written introduction.
      karlaaa1
    • RE: Into a hacker's head: Dark side of the IT world

      Oh come on society is so biased towards women these days, do they really get upset if we use male pronouns? Thinking, years off for having children, special awards for being women etc. The suffragettes must be turning in their graves for modern women to compare themselves to Posh Spice and X-Factor warnnabes.

      Ha ha, that should keep the posts away from a meaningful discussion on the really issue here, i.e. the mindset of the hacker!
      slacker172
  • On Gender--Not hacking related.

    @mheartwood
    I know about those two: They and Their refer to multiples not singles. Sorry, I had to choose a pronoun and I chose masculine. Do people in Germany argue about this? When you say 'der something' or 'die something' or 'er' or 'sie?'
    It isn't my fault. Blame the Olde English fooles who brangeth their brightspeake from Germany and they from the Greeks.
    khess
    • RE: Into a hacker's head: Dark side of the IT world

      @khess <br>I think it's a bit ridiculous to argue about gender neutrality in a hacker article.
      Omego2K
      • RE: Into a hacker's head: Dark side of the IT world

        @Omego2K

        Ditto.
        khess
  • RE: Into a hacker's head: Dark side of the IT world

    english has evolved. use "they" to mean "him/her". or just change to a class noun: "hackers". not:<br><br>This series focuses on the hacker, his personality, his motivations, his rewards, his mentality and his risks.<br><br>but:<br><br>This series focuses on hackers, personalities, motivations, rewards, mentalities and risks.<br><br>if you want to put in a superfluous "their", that's ok too, but just on the first noun, and throw in a dash"--their personalities...". oh, and i happen to like "one", but okay, so what. i also would love to get rid of capital letters.
    jiagebusen
  • RE: Into a hacker's head: Dark side of the IT world

    You'd think the talkbacks would be about hackers and Ken's post, and not all this c*** about using gender. The English language is flawed in the sense that it doesn't always have gender separation, unlike other languages, but that does not mean the female gender is being excluded by no means (eg. "Mankind"). Should we also write "womankind"?? For God's sake... *rolls eyes*
    antigaprime