What is Hacking?


Hacking, by definition, is using a computer system to gain unauthorized access to a computer system or network. “Hacking is not necessarily bad. Hacking is having that bug in you that says I have got to figure this out”, said the Director of Information Security at Advantage Technology. And since computers and the internet are now a major part of our society, understanding hacking and protecting your information is more important than ever.

Thanks to Hollywood and the mainstream media, hackers are stereotypical nerds. They are viewed as extremely smart, socially awkward basement dwellers, and on top of that, they are seen as criminals. It is believed that a hacker can take control of anything, ranging from someone’s mobile device to national security servers.

Hacking as we think of it today goes back to the early days of telecommunications when calls were first being handled by computer systems and the industry was moving away for human operators. The computers that made phone connections generated specific tones over the lines in order to communicate with one another. Early hackers would study these sounds and learn to manipulate the computers by replicating the tones, a technique that became known as “phreaking.” One of the best known “phreaks” was John Draper who discovered a whistle that came in Cap’n Crunch cereal that combined just the right pitch and frequency to stop a phone recording and put the caller in operator mode, allowing him to make unlimited calls.

And just like everyday life, there are good guys and bad guys. Criminal hackers, known as “black hat” hackers, will look for vulnerabilities in a computer system and use it to their advantage, for example, to block access to users, download information, or to deliver a malicious software. However, not all hackers are cyber criminals out to get you. In fact, there is a whole profession built around good or ethical hacking called “penetration testing” which is the practice of testing a computer systems, network or application to find vulnerabilities that an attacker could exploit. These ethical hackers are known as “white hat” hackers.

The white hats are considered the ethical hackers, using their skills to protect companies from a criminal attack. They often work with security researchers by testing an organization’s system for vulnerabilities.  On the opposite end, black hats are what give the word hacker a negative connotation. They aim to exploit companies or individual devices for illegal gain. There is also a group known as “gray hat” hackers, they are not malicious, but they might still operate outside the law. An example of a gray hat hacker might be a “hacktivist” that is engaged in political activism that they feel in just, even when they are breaking the law.

Another type of hacker is the “script a kiddie,” which is an unskilled person who uses existing computer code, which they had no involvement in producing, to hack into computers. Script kiddies demonstrate that a person doesn’t even have to create their own code in order to hack.

The main target for cyber criminals is typically an organization’s servers. This is where most data is stored, and it is a jackpot full of sensitive data. Once inside, hackers can have a devastating effect on a company from releasing private correspondence to stealing trade secrets.

Everyone is venerable to hacking because everyone has connected devices today. We’ve come a long way from when it was only phone systems that were controlled by computers and cereal box prizes could get free long distant calls. Today a script kiddie can take the code that a Russian hacker developed and deploy a ransomware attack. It’s not just big corporations that need to worry about hacking anymore, and that’s why it’s important to engage Advantage Technology to assess your information security risks today.