Strategy, Careers

Hacking is… (A definition of Hacking From a Hacker’s Perspective)

January 2, 2020
“Hacking is satisfying one’s curiosity. Hacking is finding a way to accomplish a goal, never accepting no for an answer, and being more persistent and patient than anyone else. Hacking is pushing technology to its limits and making technology more resilient through testing, tinkering, and exploration. Hacking is a mindset, a culture, a spirit, and the execution of creative problem-solving. Hacking is survival by [self]-learning as knowledge is the key to unlocking possibilities most may never consider. Hacking is questioning social norms, never accepting things for what they are and believing controls are for those who follow the rules. Hacking is the opposite of acceptance of cultural norms and the natural state of “things”. Hacking is indiscriminate, has no boundaries and is not restricted by sex, race, religion, only by how much effort you are willing to put into solving a problem. Hacking is good and those that lack morals or values have given the words “hack”, “hacker” and “hacking” a negative connotation as evil people who are labeled “hackers” do not deserve the moniker. Hacking is believing in yourself and the notion that the impossible may be possible. Hacking is manipulating rules, social norms, and common beliefs to achieve a goal, most often to identify a thief, a cheat, or a lie not previously known. Hacking is not cheating. Cheating lives in the shadows of hacking. Hacking is believing you don’t have to follow the rules all of the time.  Hacking is freedom.” - Paul Asadoorian, Founder & CTO, Security Weekly, Written May 3, 2019

An In-Depth Discussion

hackers I suppose this is what real hackers look like. Some of my most favorite hackers got together on a podcast and for over 2 hours discussed hacker culture and what it means to be a hacker. (Larry Pesce, someone who embodies the spirit of hacking like no other and keeps that spirit alive on the show every week, is seated to my left just out of frame). On episode #636 (not yet released) of Paul’s Security Weekly we will air the podcast version of the hacker culture round table discussion. In the mean time you can watch the video version featuring 13 hackers discussing hacker culture that was the last segment recorded on our holiday podcast marathon: 

Prologue

hackingisnotes A sample of some of my original notes for this essay, and eventually one of the drivers of the hacker culture podcast episode. This short essay was conceived by putting pen to paper in the middle of the night during one of those “Holy crap, I have to write this down!” moments. It has been re-worked several times, shared with several of my friends for feedback, and used to drive some of the discussion on a recent Security Weekly podcast. A few folks approached me after the podcast recording to ask what I was reading from during the segment.  notahacker This is not what a hacker looks like. Many images of “hackers” depict dark rooms, hoodies, ski masks, etc… The images most often depict criminals, not true hackers. I told them it was a short essay that I had just scribbled down on a whim in the middle of the night. My friends told me they thought I’d captured the spirit of hacking, and therefore I decided to publish it for all to read. I want this to reinforce the hacker culture, as a whole in the community and across all of our shows. While there will be more technical content than ever featured on the network, hacking doesn’t necessarily pigeon hole itself into highly technical computer skills. Myself and the entire Security Weekly team want to explore all different forms of hacking, from hacking hardware to hacking humans, and more (If you have suggestions for folks to for us to chat with, use our guest suggestion form to suggest a hacker that you believe would make a great interview). My goal is to help people understand what it means to be a hacker and encourage people to enter into careers that use their hacking skills (such as information security!). My utopian goal is that we reclaim the definition of hacking, however, I believe it will live on with two meanings. The first meaning of hacking is the one described in the first part of this article, the original meaning that traces back to the early MIT hackers (of course I like this one the best). The second meaning stems largely from the media, portraying hackers as criminals. I don’t believe we will fully reclaim hacking, the best we can do is evangelize both meanings the differences between them. After I wrote the essay I read the book “Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution” by Stephen Levy (1986). hackerbook Some of the first hackers originated from MIT and were part of TMRC (The Model Railroad Club). Their stories are perhaps some of the best (and earliest) examples of hacking at its finest. This book is awesome, giving insights into some of the first hackers and hacker culture. It was one of the inspirations for the Security History discussion and the Hacker Culture segment. I can’t say enough positive things about this book; I’ve been immersed in hacker culture for almost 20 years and not only did this book accurately describe and capture what hacking really was and is today, and I even learned a few things about hacker culture along the way.

Conclusion

As new people enter our field I believe it is important they understand the original meaning of the term “hacker” (and “hacking”). They must believe that it is okay to be a hacker and that the term does not doom them to be a criminal. The intent of the hacker is one of the defining characteristics that will help people differentiate criminals from those with ethics and morals. The podcast segment mentioned in this article is also helpful to understand aspects of hacker culture and a guide to defining the characteristics that are often attributed to someone who is a hacker.
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