Hackers Hacking Has an Interesting History Thesis

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Hacking has an interesting history and reputation. The media is mostly to blame for the public perception of the phenomenon, which in fact encompasses a much wider field than suggested by films and fiction. Most of the public perceive hacking as a crime committed by brilliant criminals and lonely teenagers. It is also mostly perceived as something that is limited to computers. According to the Hackingalert.com Web site, hacking is not limited to computers. The meaning of the term also refers to expanding the capabilities of any electronic device beyond the function intended by the manufacturers. Another interesting fact is that hacking has not always had a negative connotation. Indeed, even today there is a distinction between "black hat" and "white hat" hackers, the black hats being those who use hacking for unsavory purposes. White hat hackers are often credited with encouraging the development of computer technology. Originally, the general term referred to a computer scientist who was capable of developing programs beyond their original purpose.

The history of hacking as it manifests itself today began during the early 1960s, when a group of hackers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) worked on improving the speed and efficiency of electric trains. These hackers can therefore be placed in the "white hat" category.

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It was during the 1970s that hackers began to focus their attention on computer technology. Throughout the decade, John Draper, later known as "Captain Crunch," was repeatedly arrested for hacking into the telephone system. During the early 1970s, Draper discovered that blowing a specific whistle tone into a telephone could result in the ability to make free long-distance calls. He later built a blue box that emitted this tone. The Captain Crunch handle comes from the fact that he discovered a whistle in a cereal box, which first gave him the idea. Draper was first among a group of hackers known as "phreaks" or phone hackers.

Thesis on Hackers Hacking Has an Interesting History and Assignment

After an Esquire magazine publication on how to make the blue boxes, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs started a business to sell them; a relationship that later culminated in the founding of Apple. Although phone hacking is therefore an example of "black hat" hacking, it nonetheless resulted in a development that began the information revolution.

One of the first hacker arrests during the 1980s occurred in Milwaukee, when the group called 414 was arrested for 60 computer crimes, ranging from break-ins into the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center system to Los Alamos National Laboratory. As a result, the Comprehensive Crime Control Act was implemented to provide the Secret Service with jurisdiction over credit card and computer fraud. Later during the 1980s, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act provided authorities with even more power to make computer hacking a criminal offense. It was only in 1986 that the U.S. government realized the potential danger of hacking to national security. At this time, the Computer Emergency Response Team was also formed by U.S. defense agencies to help investigate and curb computer crimes.

This hardly discouraged hacking, as 2600: The Hacker Quarterly was founded to help hackers with tips on hacking into computer and telephone systems. During the late 1980s, Kevin Mitnick, a veteran hacker at 25, secretly monitored MCI and Digital Equipment security officials' e-mail. He was sentenced to one year in jail for damaging computers and stealing software. By this time, phreaks also began to migrate to computer hacking. It was also during the 1980s that the first Bulletin Board Systems appeared. They were used by hackers to share tips on how to break into computers, use stolen credit card numbers, and stolen computer passwords.

Despite the increased legislation, or perhaps because of it, computer hacking experienced a boom during the 1980s. The AT&T long-distance service crash for example began a national crackdown by authorities on hackers, resulting in several arrests. Operation Sundevil included a team of Secret Service agents combined with the organized crime unit in Arizona, which conducted raids in 12 of the major cities in the country. Perhaps one of the most damaging cases of hacking during the 1980s was the one of a Texas A&M professor, who received death threats after his e-mail account was hacked and used to send 20,000 racist messages.

The fears for national security are also not idle. During the late 1990s, hackers broke into federal Web sites, including the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Air Force, CIA, and NASA, among others. In 1995 alone, Defense Department computers suffered 250,000 attacks by hackers, according to a report by the General Accounting Office.

Because of the negative reputation incurred by the many high-profile arrests of hackers, they are also the victims of periodic false accusations. An interesting case is the Canadian group the Brotherhood, accused of electronically stalking a family in the country. It was later revealed that the family's 15-year-old son was the real culprit.

Black Hat hackers however abounded towards the end of the 1990s. During 1998, the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics received hundreds of thousands of false information requests, an attack that is now known as "spamming." After hackers claimed to have broken into the Pentagon and threatened to sell stolen software to terrorists, the U.S. Justice Department launched the National Infrastructure Protection Center to protect telecommunications, technology and transportation systems. It was also during this decade that the hacker group L0pht threatened that it could shut down the entire country's Internet access in 30 minutes.

This and other highly publicized threats brought to the public mind the threat to system security. Hence hackers still have a negative reputation among the public. Today, every computer user is aware of the threat posed by hackers, crackers, viruses, Trojans, worms, and how to combat them.

As noted above, the reality is that hackers can use their skills for both good and bad purposes. The unfortunate fact is that hackers have a mostly negative reputation as a result of their highly publicized negative activities. Positive hacking however does not have such a high profile, and is mostly only experienced in terms of software and computer developments for the benefit of the user. There are however both black hat and white hat hackers that have received notoriety and fame for their accomplishments; however questionable these may have been.

One famous black hat hacker is Jonathan James, the first juvenile to receive a prison sentence for hacking. He targeted high-profile organizations. He for example created a backdoor to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency server, which enabled him to view sensitive e-mails and obtain usernames and passwords from the database.

Adrian Lamo was a black hat hacker who broke into major organizations such as the Ne York Times and Microsoft. He was known as the "homeless hacker," because he used public Internet connections for his hacking activities. Lamo's activities entailed finding flaws in security systems and notifying companies of these. Although this appears to be a service rather than an intrusion, it is illegal to do this without being a hired contractor. When intruding into the New York Times, Lamo received a $65,000 fine in addition to a six-month home confinement and two years of probation. Lamo currently engages in more wholesome activities, including public speaking and journalism.

Like Lamo, the high-profile hacker Kevin Mitnick also received prison time for his activities, after which he became a productive member of society. His crimes were highly publicized, and were even exploited in films such as Freedom Downtime and Takedown. His first offenses were fairly innocent, hacking into bus ticket systems to obtain free rides. Later he engaged in more serious crimes such as stealing corporate secrets, scrambling phone networks, and breaking into the national defense warning system. He was finally arrested when breaking into the home computer of Tsutomu Shimomura, another hacker and computer expert. After five years in prison, Mitnick is now a computer security consultant, author and speaker.

Robert Tappan Morris is the creator of the first computer worm, known as the Morris Worm. He was also the first to be prosecuted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act implemented during 1986. The worm damaged an estimated 6,000 computers, for which Morris received three years' probation, community service for 400 hours, and a find of $10,000. Morris also emerged from prison to enter society as a productive and useful person. He is currently employed as a tenured professor at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. His work entails researching computer network architectures.

As mentioned above, white hat hackers use their skills to benefit computer users and corporations. One such hacker is Stephen Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer. After engaging in minor phone phreaking activities and pranks, Wozniak left college to work on the Apple concept with Steve Jobs. He is currently mainly involved in philanthropy, such as providing technology and teaching to the Los Gatos School District.

The most significant white hat hacker is perhaps Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. For this, he received the Millennium Technology Prize. Like Wozniak,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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