Reverse Engineering/Terminology


Hacking is a term used in popular culture to describe malicious activities of computer users. The movie Hackers was a large influence on bringing the term into common use by romanticising the Hacker as an idealistic youth seeking freedom from tyranny.

There are some fantastic books that help to explain what a real hacker is like:

  • Hackers, by Steven Levy
  • The Devouring Fungus, by Karla Jennings
  • Free as in Freedom, by Sam Williams
  • Just for Fun, by Linus Torvalds
  • The Cathedral and the Bazaar, by Eric Raymond
  • Code Book, by Simon Singh
  • In The Beginning... Was The Command Line, by Neal Stephenson
  • the cluetrain manifesto, by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger

This wikibook hopes to shed some light on what hackers really do, and who they actually are.

Hackers are people who enjoy playing around with computers to make things happen. This often involves circumventing some security aspects of operating systems or applications in order to gain privileged access.

The first chapter is one of the most important chapters to read. Here the term Hacking is defined, revealing some insight into what hacking really is.

The second covers the history of computing and hackers. This might help correct the false impressions propagated by news media.

The 'hacking-culture' follows up next and 'finally' the real thing is assessed. (Note: These methods are illegal if used wrongly, yet the method to prevent or 'cure' this 'attack' is given as well to remain as objective as possible).

I would appreciate it if anyone posts stuff which will help the world to deal with security issues and how to 'deal' with hackers (mostly crackers and scriptkiddies).

The Jargon File or New Hackers dictionary defines the term hacker quite nicely. It also does an exceptional job of pointing out that one does not need to be affiliated with computers at all to be considered a hacker.

The excerpt from The Jargon File:

 hacker: n.
 [originally, someone who makes furniture with an axe] 
 1. A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems 
 and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who 
 prefer to learn only the minimum necessary. RFC1392, the Internet 
 Users' Glossary, usefully amplifies this as: A person who delights in 
 having an intimate understanding of the internal workings of a system, 
 computers and computer networks in particular.
 2. One who programs enthusiastically (even obsessively) or who enjoys 
 programming rather than just theorizing about programming. 
 3. A person capable of appreciating hack value. 
 4. A person who is good at programming quickly. 
 5. An expert at a particular program, or one who frequently does work 
 using it or on it; as in ?a Unix hacker?. (Definitions 1 through 5 are 
 correlated, and people who fit them congregate.) 
 6. An expert or enthusiast of any kind. One might be an astronomy hacker, 
 for example. 
 7. One who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or 
 circumventing limitations. 
 8. [deprecated] A malicious meddler who tries to discover sensitive 
 information by poking around. Hence password hacker, network hacker. 
 The correct term for this sense is cracker.

Maybe it is helpful to note that the people that program the Linux kernel are called "Linux hackers".

A brief History of HackersEdit

As long as there have been computers, people were there to 'hack' them. But this activity really hit the headlines when the Internet arrived. Yet history teaches us that this event wasn't an evil thing at all, hackers actually 'maintain' the Internet as it should be. It is unimaginable for the computer/Internet society to grow so large without people who were at the cutting edge of technology (hacking internet it's way up). Just imagine how it would be if there weren't any hackers... Most technology you use today would not exist. Ask yourself: Would your computer be this powerful if it wasn't put to the edge? Would software be as reliable as it looks? Would there be a spiral of cutting-edge innovations?

You can answer all these questions with no. It might seem strange to think positively of hackers, but know that much is done on the edge of society (mostly not in the middle).

The Hacker-CultureEdit

Advanced computer users describe themselves as hackers; those who use their skills for malevolent purposes are termed "crackers". The term crackersimplies breaking things, in the sense of cracking the integrity of a computer system; and they work through cracks in security, like climbing through a crack in a wall; but their main act is breaking into computers for example by figuring out the root password, which is like cracking a safe at a bank. This means that crackers break the law, yet this isn't enough to get indepth information about the hacker-culture.

In this chapter the main hacker-personalities will be described. In a rather unusual way: the media is used to get to know the real group. This means that you'll be able to understand that some of the people certainly not worth the name hacker.


Hack is an onomatopoeic verb describing the noise and actions of chopping at something with a blade (i.e.: He hacked away at the underbrush with a machete), or a particularly nasty cough (i.e.: The chainsmoker hacked up some brown phlegm), but which also came to describe the act of typing on a typewriter, for the same reason (the annoying, incessant HACK HACK HACK, Ding! CRASH! HACK HACK HACK, &c).

From there it became associated not only with the action itself, but also those doing the typing. For example, a "hack"--a bad writer/journalist--would "hack out" a poorly researched or unoriginal story on his typewriter. While the less noisy tapping of computer keyboards began to replace the harsh noise of the typewriter, the old terminology was carried over to the new technology. Thus, the original "hackers," (long before the PC or word processors) were merely called that because they would spend their days "hacking away" at their console keyboards, writing code.

Note: It's worth noting that, when computing was in its infancy and console time at the giant mainframes was scarce, programmers would often hand-write code or type it out on typewriters before they manually plugged it into the machine. Also, the earliest consoles were basically automated typewriters.)

Nowadays, a hacker is, within the software development community, any skilled programmer, especially among open-source developers. A hack in turn, is a quick-and-dirty patch, fix, or utility which may not be well documented or necessarily reliable, but which gets the job done, whatever that job may be.

Crackers are skilled programmers who exploit the limitations of computer networks, and write up cracks--malicious hacks--to automate the dirty work. These hacks/cracks may attempt to break into remote machines e.g. He hacked into the school's server to increase his phys-ed grade., crack passwords (the most useful utility for this is simply called Crack), decrypt data, or simply modify proprietary software so the cracker doesn't have to pay for it e.g. He downloaded a cracked version of Dreamweaver, because he couldn't afford to buy it..

Viruses, trojans, and worms are also hacks/cracks of a sort. Crackers are especially fond of worms, which spread without user interaction and can be used to create giant, distributed supercomputers that can then be used to attack other computers (the Code Red worm used the combined power of infected computers to flood the White House web server, making it inaccessible to regular users for a time).

When a hacker finds a security hole in the software they're using, they hack out some code to patch it. When a cracker finds a hole, they hack out code to exploit it, ideally bringing remote computers under their control.

Script-kiddies use hacks and cracks created by real programmers, but they use their software without really understanding the code that's doing the work. They are generally trying to just impress their friends.

As indicated above, not all hacks are "malware" (malicious code). User-created shell scripts and batch files that automate tasks (like workstation startup, permission settings, data backup, &c.) are hacks too. Hacks are tools. They are hacked out to make someone's life easier, but not necessarily yours.

TV news and, of course, the movie "Hackers" brought the label hacker to the attention of the wider public, but failed to acknowledge its broader meaning, instead using it as a buzzword, so as not to confuse the less informed members of their audience ("Computer programs are written by people? Like books? I thought other computers made them!").

Others have latched on to the grit, glamour, and rebellion the buzzword hacker invokes; thus, they think of hacking as something of a religion. But, in short, it's nothing more than playing around with computer code. You don't even need to be connected to the internet to do some hacking, just learn a programming language.

Last modified on 28 January 2011, at 10:31