le_bebna_kamni: (iCthulhu)
The world is full of security systems. Hack one of them.
-- Bruce Schneier
Okay, Mr. Schneier, I've found one to hack... )
le_bebna_kamni: (MIB)
I see a lot of complaints in the tech-savvy community that the media often gives hackers a bad name, and I would probably say that most people who hear the word "hacker" probably equate it with "criminal", "security threat", or "pre-pubescent annoyance".

But, says the tech-savvy community, that's because people use the wrong word. "Cracker" is the word for a person who does illegal activities and who are [often] immature people with nothing better to do. A "hacker" is a person who is really, really good with making computers better, faster, and maybe even friendlier, and who is respected among the best of the best.

For people interested in the topic, you might enjoy Eric S. Raymond's How To Become A Hacker.

I was reminded of this issue when my own instructor used the word "hacker" to describe someone who maliciously breaks into your computer. I was actually surprised to hear that word from a tech-savvy person, and not in the context of debunking the term.

So it got me wondering: what's a quick and easy way to tell if someone is a cracker, or hacker? Just answer the question: do they break things, or fix them?

For example, right now Vista has trouble sending jobs to printers attached to an XP computer, even if they're on the same network. A hacker might know the cool trick of setting up the printer as a "local" printer, then manually configure the port to the URL of the actual printer. A cracker might figure out how to exploit this hack to...I don't know, get around normal port blocking security measures?

Of course it's not all black and white -- for example, some hacks that allow an admin to double-check the strength of their users passwords can also be turned around to find the weakest link for getting access to a system. But if you stick with the question of "is the person trying to fix things, or break things?" you can probably classify about 90-95% of cracking/hacking.

The problem comes when you're dealing with Microsoft. You see, technically "fixing" Vista to never report back to its masters (and getting it to still function) is a crack. It's "breaking" Microsoft's intent with your machine, even as it's providing more privacy and less annoyance to you the user. And most of these "fixes" are illegal, or will at least terminate your right to use the software legally.

Hmm...I wonder what that says about a system where you can't tell whether you're breaking it or fixing it? Maybe that's why Microsoft doesn't work so well...


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