What is a hacker?
Some days ago, surfing the Internet, I came across a particular website, PassiveMode, who mainly deals with hacking.
Amongst the articles I found one which interested me: What is a hacker?.
It is a topic I'd like to deal with, because I noted there are misunderstangings and disinformation about this. The article opens with a piece taken from a book by the same author, Beyond Fear by Bruce Schneier:
A hacker is someone who thinks outside the box. It's someone who discards conventional wisdom, and does something else instead. It's someone who looks at the edge and wonders what's beyond. It's someone who sees a set of rules and wonders what happens if you don't follow them. A hacker is someone who experiments with the limitations of systems for intellectual curiosity.
It's evident this is not the concept of hacker claimed by media, that is the computer criminal, all alone in his room for days, trying to steal credit card numbers. No, this is not hacking. Hacking is curiosity: it is using objects in a way they were not designed for.
A restaurant owner (I assume, it's not written in the post) who, to avoid people from stealing the pen which he used to sign credit cards, banded a spoon to it. Hacking is not necessarily a term concerning the world of computers. Hackers have always been there, even though the term is rather recent. Taking back Bruce Schneier's words: Galileo was a hacker. Mme. Curie was one, too. Aristotle wasn't. (Aristotle had some theoretical proof that women had fewer teeth than men. A hacker would have simply counted his wife's teeth. A good hacker would have counted his wife's teeth without her knowing about it, while she was asleep. A good bad hacker might remove some of them, just to prove a point.)
"Computer" hackers follow these guidelines. They have the same genius as Galileo had, but they use it on computers. Computers, networks in particular, are the new exploration fields. The Internet is an immense landscape of hidden and undiscovered information. The more you know, the more you can do. One shouldn't be surprised in discovering that many hackers focus on computer security. To deal with security you need a particular mindset: thinking in a non-common way, breaking the rules, exploring systems limitations. It is a challenge: the hacker finds a wall between himself and knowledge. This wall is something to be destroyed to gain knowledge. Starting once again from the original article on PassiveMode:
Hackers cheat. And breaking security regularly involves cheating. It's figuring out a smart card's RSA key by looking at the power fluctuations, because the designers of the card never realized anyone could do that. It's self-signing a piece of code, because the signature-verification system didn't think someone might try that. It's using a piece of a protocol to break a completely different protocol, because all previous security analysis only looked at protocols individually and not in pairs.
This is security hacking, breaking a system thinking in a different way.