The hacker and cyber security

The Hacker: A Review Of Their Legacy

In this new digital era, cyber security is probably the most imperative type of security people need to be worried about. Businesses, government agencies, financial institutions, and basically any type of entity that stores information digitally needs to be aware of the possible breeches of security. What this means is that most sensitive data, from social security numbers to different financial accounts, can be accessed to manipulate, to view, or to use by any person with wrongful intentions. The world is becoming one large link to World Wide Web and computer systems, thus is becoming ever more exposed to the threat of malicious hackers. While we do not know too much about the hackers themselves, most people understand the malicious damage they can accomplish to computers and networks. The term hacker is usually used to describe a person that "hacks into" a computer system by circumventing security and entering into unauthorized areas. However, some people believe that hackers can be good or bad in the cyber world. History has shown that there are different cultures in the hacker world that contributes to today's cyber world, but there is also the ones abuse it. They have both contributed in different ways in the created the history of the present day internet.

Who would believe that the plague of today's computer hacking was developed at one of the most prestigious technological schools in the nation. At MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), a collection of young and gifted students created the blueprint and got their name from the hacker, or phreakers, of the late 1800s who found amusement in using their skills to basically break into the growing telephone companies. These young MIT students' skills were developed initially from breaking into the original internet called the Arpanet (Himanen & Castells, 2001). They produced an innovation that would haunt the internet and federal government from that point forward.

The definition of hacking is basically an imaginative criminal offense that is performed when they break into another remote system with the intent of stealing or manipulation of digital information. Initially hacking started out as an unplanned occurrence; it was just computer technicians trying to understand the way computer systems operated. In the 1970s there was an uprising in phone hacking, or phreaking, were individuals were breaking into the phone system to connect to free calls. This movement was initially started by John Draper, but was to be followed by hundreds of techno savvy phreakers. Draper discovered this method of manipulating the phone system with 2600 hertz tones to connect to different free services on the telephone. He discovered that a whistle out of cereal box, soon called the "blue box", could access the AT&T long distance system and make free long distance calls . He was soon well known in the cyber world and was given the name of Captain Crunch. They soon discovered different methods to break the telephonic system. Hackers started accessing the networks with a variety of different devices, or “boxes”, and managed to circumvent the meager security of the nation's phone networks and radio systems. This resulted in an unbelievable amount of telephone fraud costing thousands of dollars.

Soon after the era of phreaking, the hacker population targeted computers. Computers became not only became the victim, but the delivery method or means that the hackers communicated. It did not take long for the phreakers to shift to the computer, by the 80's, the first bulleting boards systems (BBS) started to appear. The design of bulletin board systems (BBS) permitted hackers to communicate and exchange information in reference to ways to penetrate systems and malicious source codes. This was the start of a serious problem for the government and millions of people's sensitive information. BBS can be related to the social sites of today, like discussion boards for universities and chat rooms where any subject matter can be discussed and exchanged. When these boards began to appear on the internet, it began a breading ground for hacking groups like the Legion of Doom. These groups started to emerge in the 1980's and acted as a springboard for groups to organize and develop a power base for motivated hackers across America. The Legion of Doom (LOD) is one of the most notorious hacking groups to emerge . This group created its name based off the comic book series, the leader of the gang went as far to call himself Lex Luther after the villain. After LOD went public is started a wave of similar groups with the same intentions of sharing information to assist themselves and others in hacking the cyber systems.

Hacking went main stream with the groups able to exchange information and access remote system with relative ease. Hacking became so popular among these groups, there was even a publication called the 2600 Magazine published. The magazine is still available today under the name of 2600: The Hacker Quarterly . The hacker movement had become a serious issue. A few years later Congress reacted by creating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act that made hacking illegal, which up to this point was a legitimate activity.

With to creation of acts to combat the threat of hacking, there was a Over the years, there was a succession of events that tested the new laws on the worst computer hacking on the high profile cases. Some of these cases like the Morris Worm and well known hacker named Mitnick were tried and convicted under the new laws. Kevin Mitnick was the typical stereotype hacker that people think of when someone mentions the term. He was highly publicized by the media and his legal troubles where broadcasted nation wide. His activities were looked by many to be exaggerated compared the actual offenses that he conducted, but the authorities had to make a point. Mitnick had a background of hacking prior to the offenses that brought him to national attention. He began with small hacking projects like circumventing the Los Angeles transit system to use the buses free. He started out exploiting the Los Angeles bus punch card system to get free rides. He was eventually brought on charges and convicted for illegally hacking into and stealing software from the Digital Equipment Corporation's computer network. Mitnick served five years and has been able to convert from a malicious hacker to a consultant on computer system; he has also written books and spoke at many seminars about systems security.

Computers have their place in history as automobiles and the telephone; the important point is that their growth far exceeds any other development. The legal aspects are still trying to catch up to the rapid growth. The best way to understand the ramifications of hacking in your life is to understand how the computer has evolved. Hacking is not restricted to computers. The actual meaning to hack something is to increase the potential or abilities of an invention or device beyond what is was made to accomplish. A good example of this fact happened with the original hackers at MIT. This group first experimented with electric train sets with the intensions of trying to make them run faster and operate better. These same groups at the university were later paid to develop the software to operate the large mainframe computers on campus. These students discovered more efficient methods to assist in their programming; they produced short cuts, or hacks, that eventually became the start of the hacker. Institutions such as MIT, Stanford, Berkley, and other major American universities were all connected to the original cyber freeway of the national department of defense project. The digital links between the different hubs was named the Arpanet, it became the heart of what is recognized today as the internet . Through this primitive system, MIT hackers were able to make contact with other hackers at other schools, which laid the ground work for the national hacker culture. It wasn't a large problem until these student hackers started exchanging their knowledge in the large mainframes and exploiting other agencies through the university cyber channels.

By far, most notorious hackers have been males and still are men. Male hackers started their role when they began appearing during the industrial revolution and the emergence of the telephone network. The telephone operators were all men because women had not started their place in the workforce. Regrettably, the men in the positions were needed for factory and jobs the required the labor; men were also known to abuse the system. The female operators emerged with the shift in the industrial revolution and war effort. Over time, the system sparked interest and women were introduced to the possibilities of hacking systems. One female hacker became notorious named Susan Thunder. She was educated in social engineering and was known to be a dynamic phreaker. She was acknowledged to have the skills necessary of accessing security systems and showing the flaws in the military's computer security. She was more famous than most because of her association, and believed relationship with Kevin Mitnick. In the end of Mitnick legal woes, she was the main person who testified against him .

The culture for these hackers has been around since the conception of the computer and networks. In reality, hackers have shaped the way we view the World Wide Web and our system; they have continuously had society change because of the dependency to the internet. The hacker culture has developed three types of hackers. They have been given the labels of black, white, and grey hat hackers according to their motivations and intentions . The black hat hacker is strictly using his abilities for personal gain or with the intent to disrupt the network systems. The name was derived from the original hacker sold their information on the “black” market - coined the term black hat hacker. These are the individuals that have given the hackers the bad reputation by accessing bank information and stealing military secrets. The opposite end of the hacking spectrum is the white hat hackers. These are individuals who use their talents for the good of the computer security developments. They provide services to corporations to assist them with issues related to their computer systems security. The grey hat hackers are motivated primary by money or fame within the hacker society.

Within the described culture of hackers there are two subcultures . They are basically the individuals that were educated from institutional learning the other was self educated. The academic hacker subculture consists of students and professionals that have vast technical skills in the computer field. These individuals are in the environment of the newest technology. The other subculture of hackers consists of the individuals that have educated themselves are intrigued and engrossed in the technology. The vast majorities of these hackers consider it a hobby and work out of their basement.

Not until the late 1980s did government agencies understand the steadily growing problem hackers presented to national security. In 1986 Congress approved the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act enacting laws to make an attempt at making hacking a crime. Laws started showing the government concerns and enacted several new laws to prevent hacking. In Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 1029, it is written to prevent hackers from “knowingly and with intent to defraud, produce, use, traffic, or in some cases simply possess counterfeit and/or unauthorized access devices…”, (Britz, 2009). There is still problem with prosecution of cyber criminals, the laws are still growing to adapt to the continuously changing technology.

One of the main weapons of the federal government is Section 1030; it is known as the “hacking statue” (Britz, 2009). The statue in its original form was limited in scope to prosecute illegal computer crime. It was originally called the Counterfeit Access Device and Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986. When the CFAA was passed in 1984 (as the Counterfeit Access Device and Computer Fraud and Abuse Act), it was limited to federal government computers and computers owned by large financial institutions. The modified act authorizes legal prosecution for any person unauthorized access to systems or obtain information without proper levels of access. It also forbids a person to manipulate or release malicious code with intent to cause damage or economic loss.

The penalties could range from prison and fines. Under these acts if convicted could range from prison terms as long as 20 years and fines up to $400,000. The first and only individual indicted under the un-amended CFAA was Robert Morris; he was the student who created and released the Morris Worm onto the Web (Platt, 1997). However, the original act has been modified numerous times to react to the growing cases of cyber hackers. A good example is the National Information Infrastructure Protection Act (NIIPA) that amended the CFAA. It was enacted under the Clinton administration and elaborated on the classification of a “protected computer” by including any system linked to the World Wide Web (Britz, 2009). Overall punishments are fitting to the crimes conducted. Hackers now face laws that associate them with criminal acts, and punishments are fitting to their crimes.

For many hackers, it has become their way of life. Fed up with the robotic lifestyle of the average American, hackers and the huge numbers of followers have shaped their own place among our technological society. Hacker culture, once considered part of the underground, is now part of society consisting of educated criminals to your neighbor across the street. People think that the hacker craze was from the 70s and 80s; however, it is still with us. We are just becoming accustomed to the threats of hackers, viruses, spyware, Trojans, and worms. While computer hackers constitute a main security concern for individuals, businesses and public institutions across the globe, the government is making positive attempts to try and deter cyber crime. Because technology grew at an alarming rate, the legal system was unable to keep pace with the individual hacker and groups. Slowly the world is becoming educated on the threats of hackers and the techniques to defend against them.


Britz, M. T. 2009. Computer Forensics and Cyber Crime 2nd Ed. Prentice Hall. Ohio. Pp188-189.

Himanen, P. and Castells, M. 2001. The Hacker Ethic. Random House. New York

Lancaster, K. The Art of Computer Hacking. 2009. [internet].

Leeson, P. and Coyne, C. J. 2002. The Economics of Computer Hacking. Department of Economics, West Virginia University [internet].

Littman, J. 1997. The Fugitive Game: Online with Kevin Mitnick. Little, Brown, and Company. New York

Platt, C. 1997. Anarchy Online. Harper Prism. New York Pp. 30-32

Tippit Securities. 2010. Top 10 Most Famous Hackers of All Time. [internet]