Computer Hacking Series: Basic Terms

For the purpose of educating its readers and visitors, beginning today RandomFlow will be adding a section that tackles about computers, Internet and security. Using plain and simple terms, we aim to discuss IT matters in a less technical way.
Today, we will debunk the wrong connotation about Hacking.
Hacking is such a buzzword nowadays. But it always carry with it some sort of mystery, especially to the less techie Filipinos. It is not uncommon to hear someone crying at the top of their voice, “Na-hack ang account ko!” (My account has been hacked!) after they used a public computer, forgot to sign out and a trickster wrecked havoc to their account. But truth is, that is NOT hacking. So let’s get this straight.
Generally speaking, the term hacking in itself is not a bad word. Cracking on the other hand is illegal. Perhaps the reason why most Pinoys go ballistic when they feel their system or accounts have been compromised, is largely due to lack of proper information. To most of us, hacking means any crime employed using computers. But it is not always the case, and hacking may not be the right word. This misinformation is further aggravated by some youngsters in computer shops who claim to be “hackers”, although in reality they are just using pre-packaged scripts and tools downloaded from the internet.
So let us understand the proper terms in the computer hacking sub-culture:
  • White hat. A white hat hacker breaks security for non-malicious reasons, for instance testing their own security system. This classification also includes individuals who perform penetration tests and vulnerability assessments within a contractual agreement. Often, this type of professional ‘white hat’ hacker is called an ethical hacker. The International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants, also known as the EC-Council has developed courseware, classes, online training and certifications covering the diverse arena of Ethical Hacking. White hat hackers or ethical hackers are the good guys.
  • Black hat. A Black Hat Hacker is a hacker who “violates computer security for little reason beyond maliciousness or for personal gain”. Black Hat Hackers are the bad guys, “the epitome of all that the public fears in a computer criminal (cyber-criminals)”. Black Hat Hackers break into secure networks to destroy data or make the network unusable for those who are authorized to use the network.
  • Grey hat. A grey hat hacker is a combination of a Black Hat and a White Hat Hacker. A Grey Hat Hacker may surf the internet and hack into a computer system for the sole purpose of notifying the administrator that their system has been hacked, for example. Then they may offer to repair their system for a small fee.
  • Blue hat. A blue hat hacker is someone outside computer security consulting firms who is used to bug test a system prior to its launch, looking for exploits so they can be closed. For example, before Microsoft  releases a new Windows version, they often release a beta version to the BlueHats to check for security holes.
  • Script kiddie. A script kiddie is a non-expert who breaks into computer systems by using pre-packaged automated tools written by others, usually with little understanding of the underlying concept. Most youngsters who claim to be hackers are only script kiddies. Sometimes, they are called posers or wannabes (although these terms are not IT in nature).
  • Neophyte. A neophyte, “n00b”, or “newbie” is someone who is new to hacking and has almost no knowledge or experience of the workings of technology, and hacking.
  • Elite hacker. A social status among hackers, elite is used to describe the most skilled.
  • Hacktivist. A hacktivist is a hacker who utilizes technology to announce a social, ideological, religious, or political message. In general, most hacktivism involves website defacement or denial-of-service attacks.
In the next issue, we will talk about the common methods of attacks used, and how we can protect ourselves from becoming the next victim of cyber-crimes.
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