The hacking culture: Who are the hackers?

– Matt Mente, News Editor

Since the creation of the internet, it has continued to expand and become an increasingly important part of society. This has lead to an all new kind of criminal, hackers. The first part of this series will look at who exactly hackers are and why they do what it is they do.

Within hacking communities, people generally sort themselves into one of three categories; white hat, black hat, and grey hat. White hat hackers are ethical hackers, working to analyze and improve network security. Black hat hackers are those individuals who seek to commit crimes online. Grey hat hackers are those people who fall in between often functioning like white hats but without client consent and with less subtlety.

Hackers obviously have a high level of skill when it comes to computers and programming, and they are generally quite intelligent individuals. Many hackers such as the famous Michael Calce aka MafiaBoy began their hacking careers with a simple interest in computers.

“ The computer gave me, a six year old, a sense of control and command. Nothing else in my world operated that way.”

In 2000, MafiaBoy launched a series of attacks that shut down several websites including Yahoo! which was the largest search engine in the world at that time.

Some hackers like MafiaBoy do it simply for the thrill or challenge of breaking into a system. They don’t have any particularly malicious intent. Many hackers who hack for the fun of it fall into the gray hat category and often notify companies of security flaws that they discover though they will often deface websites to prove they were there, the digital equivalent of spray paint.

Recently there has also emerged a new variety of hackers being referred to as Hacktivists. Largely associated with internet groups such as the hacker collective Anonymous or the briefly lived Lulzsec these individuals use hacking to pursue a greater social agenda. Hacktivists supporting WikiLeaks notably took down Pay-Pal when it cut services to WikiLeaks. Hacktivists have also shown strong support for the ongoing Occupy movement.

These groups and individuals are hackers who act for personal reasons. There is another category of hacker altogether, and they are the most serious ones.

Governments around the world employ agencies and groups of hackers. These people are essentially the spies of the digital age. Hacking yhat is funded by nations and corporations is the most organized and extensive on the internet. This is such that their actions are classified as cyber warfare. Not only do these groups try to steal sensitive data but they may also aim to disrupt or damage infrastructure such as power systems or communications. The U.S. power grid has been noted by many as particularly vulnerable and in 2009 Obama stated that “cyber intruders have probed our electrical grids.”

So from the ethical to the criminal, the professional to the hobbyist, hackers can be just about anyone from anywhere, though statistically most hackers are in their twenties. The only requisite for hacking or even just learning some basic programming is a computer with an internet connection and some determination, though curiosity helps.

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