Hacking: The Art of Trickery

Image from Erik Vloothuis

It is now week 4 and we are really delving into our cyber-culture with this weeks topic: Hacking. Hacking is in no way a new idea or phenomenon. Jon Erickson in Hacking: The Art of Exploitation defines a hacker as a term used to describe those that write code and those who exploit it adding that these two groups have different end goals, their techniques are similar, while The Jargon File cited in the Newyorker suggests a hacker is “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” Since then, it has grown its own subculture and with it introduced an underground hacking conference “Def Con”.

‘Hacking’ is no longer used as an umbrella term for people that ‘ explore details of programmable systems’ (Newyorker), it has become more nuanced than that showing an understanding that there are different types of hackers: black, white and grey hat three colours are the names given to the types of hackers in the hacking spectrum.

Howtogeek addresses the three categories suggesting black hat hackers hack with malicious intent and for personal gain such as stealing credit card information. White hat hackers are the opposite and use their abilities for good, ethical and legal reasons. They tend to specialise in this area and get hired to test the company’s security. Grey hat hackers are a mix of the both black and white hat hackers. They don’t hack for personal gain but do not have permission to do so. They attack a network but not for illegal or malicious intent, they do so to alert organisations to the fault in their security systems. This occurred when Khalil Shreateh discovered a flaw in Facebook’s security and tried to alert them to it. Shreateh was not listened and continued to hack past Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg’s privacy settings showcasing the glitch he found (Dailymail.co.uk)

There are many reasons as to why hackers choose to do what they do. Tim Jordan in Hacking: Digital Media and Technological Determinism suggests some people hack for reasons like politics, autonomy and fun, but more often than not it’s about making a difference in the world. He suggests that there are two different types of hackers; those who act like engineers and those who act like bandits.

Hacking, a Godly Affair?

Hacking can be seen as tricking in one sense, and can be traced back to the trickster gods as Svetlana Nikitina in Tricksters of the Digital Age: Creativity in Hacker Culture stated that trickster gods such as Hermes existed to challenge us and prepare us for deceit. Nikitina suggests that hackers may see themselves as divine, skilful beings that exist to challenge and find faults in security networks, especially grey-hat hackers who test systems just to make their flaws visible.

While researching this topic, I came across the term social engineering; a term I have heard used before but did not quite understand. Christopher Hadnagy in Social Engineering: The Art of Human Hacking defined social engineering as:

“the act of manipulating a person to take an action that may or may not be in the “target’s” best interest. This may include obtaining information, gaining access, or getting the target to take certain action.”

Manipulation typically includes trickery and deception a lot like hacking. After studying Nikitina in Tricksters of the Digital Age: Creativity in Hacker Culture and hacking as a global term and social engineering, deceit and manipulation are common terms.Perhaps one influences the other or has come about as a result of one?

If you wish to further your understanding of the link between hacking and trickery, you watch the two-minute video below to see how quick a hacker broke into someone’s personal phone account at hacker conference Def Con.

“Trickster gods defy our expectation of divine benevolence and challenge us to be prepared for deceit and pranks as part of the god’s exercise of creative powers.” – Svetlana Nikitina

Liberating the Internet

For this week’s blog entry, I would like to discuss an idea proposed by political activist Wael Ghonim. He suggested the idea in the below video when speaking about the Arab Spring and the role social media played in the Egyptian revolution.

Social media and the internet are the building blocks of our society. We co-exist with it as explored in my previous blog “Your Second Self- Being In Two Places at Once“. It has many uses such as connecting with old and new friends, sharing photographs and even breaking a news story. Wael Ghonim used social media for a different purpose. He used it to start a revolution.

Wael Ghonim anonymously created a Facebook page which helped spark the Egyptian revolution. The voiceless were given a voice. Ghonim goes on to state that social media was a tool used to unite people and topple dictators but eventually tore the united apart.

Ghonim said in an interview with The World Post that “Social media is redistributing political power. It gave people the power to develop networks, organise actions and exchange information at scale in a short period of time”. Social Media has the ability to bring people together to further a cause which in Wael Ghonim’s case was to overthrow Egypt’s political dictators.

Image from Pixabay

To liberate the internet means an open discussion on social platforms without being shut down or your opinion muted. You could argue that this already happens. People all over the world have opinions on all sorts of topics including newsworthy pieces and satirical articles. From a quick glance all is at it seems but there is a hidden darker side.

The internet is used to fuel conversations of hate and prejudice against all and anything it can get its hands on, including race, gender and occupation. The hashtag #blacklivesmatter represented a group of people standing up for themselves against police brutality. But to some, this was perceived as an attack on their skin colour and the hashtag #alllivesmatter was born. The internet gave people the freedom to stand up for themselves  but it also propelled a storm of negativity. allowing conversations descend into angry mobs.

Think Like Me

Ghonim spoke with The World Post about his endeavor to liberate the internet stating,

“Part of the Internet is being held captive by the less noble aspects of our human behavior. Today’s social media currency is likes, shares and retweets. This is how we are rewarded for our contributions. We are defined by the number of followers we have. We are participating in a never-ending popularity contest.”

We seek out echo-chambers to confirm and validate our opinions, to get those likes, shares and retweets. Echo chambers are essentially versions of group-think where we look for like minded people to agree with us.The internet in it’s current state does now allow for opposing views. We search for people that share our opinion and dismiss people that don’t agree with us.

Wael Ghonim’s intention to liberate the internet means to free it from all the negativity and disruptive behavior it brings. To let it be a place where thoughtful conversations take places not just a platform for news to be broadcast. He wants to promote discussion and a platform for conflicting opinions without the fear of harsh retaliation. He wishes to promote thoughtful and respectful conversations in a civilicised manner. Ghonim is in no way suggesting that we must all agree with each other but that we must voice our opinions in a constructive civilized manner.

We seem to have entered a world online where we perceive ourselves as the one true opinion. We have developed a sense of inflated self-importance where we talk at each other. In order to liberate the internet and take away it’s hold on us, we need to create meaningful conversation and talk with each other.

“Today I believe if we want to liberate the society, we first need to liberate the Internet.” – Wael Ghonim





Your Second Self – Being in Two Places at Once

Photo Credit to Jason Howie

Social media was the topic of this week’s lecture. A very interesting topic we came across was the idea of “a second self”. Anybody that has a social media footprint has a second self. It’s the digital you. The you, you present to the online world.

Amber Case in the video below presents the idea that there are two versions of ourselves. One is present in the real world and one resides online.

Amber Case in the video below presents the idea that there are two versions of ourselves. One is present in the real world and one resides online.  We do no exist alone in one world anymore, we exist in two.

Case suggests that we are all now cyborgs. She defines a cyborg as “an organism to which exogenous components have been added for the purpose of adapting to new environments”. A new environment for which we have adapted to in this case is the digital realm. The “exogenous components” that have been added are mobile phones. They allow real-time communication in line with what is expected of a savvy social media user. Case suggests that we’ve added exogenous components to allow us to connect with a different environment. We’ve added mobile phones to our bodies to connect with the digital realm. We’ve become cyborgs in order to extend our mental selves.

Our second selves are our presence on the internet. Anybody that has a social media account has a second self. Like we present ourselves in the real world, we must now manage the second version of ourselves on the internet too!

Managing Your Second Self

Managing our second selves isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. It isn’t always a true reflection of somebody’s “first self”. It’s no secret that we usually only post the best things about ourselves online. The Independent speaking about social media reports

“We use these outlets to present a false picture of our lives to the online community; with flattering selfies and faux-glamorous images of holidays, parties and meals”

This is especially common on Facebook and Instagram. As modern day cyborgs, social media is an integrated part of our existence and we are not immune to its negative effects- feelings of anxiety, isolation and low self-esteem. (The Independent).

study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh suggests that social media makes us depressed but argues that social media only exacerbates existing issues stating that many users turn to social media to fill a void. The study concluded social media is significantly linked with increased depression but is not necessarily the cause.

Despite this study, people turn to Instagram for inspiration to get fit (Glamour.com) and sometimes develop body dysmorphia and eating disorders because of a distorted view of what’s reals real and attainable, but frequently, these “inspirational” images are because of good lightimillie-smithng and the right angle.

Luckily there are plenty of people exposing these distorted, fake images like Instagram user Millie Smith . Millie Smith exposed fake transformation photos in order to promote body positivity as reported by positive online community Hello Giggles.

Twitter does not escape the parade of negativity. It’s easy to be misunderstood when you need to fit everything you want to say in 140 characters or less, which happened in the case of Justine Sacco. She was going on a long flight to Africa and made a joke about America’s privilege but it was gravely misunderstood (Dailymail.co.uk)


Justine Sacco’s second self was scorned and sent threats because of one tweet. She was away from social media for the duration of her  16-hour flight to Africa and could not manage the damage her second-self was causing.

Sacco was ultimately fired from her job as a public relations professional due to mismanagement of her second-self and perhaps her sense of humour. She intentionally tweeted to her followers who understand Justine’s humour but she had no idea one retweet could do this much damage to her real life.

I feel the the line between our second selves and our real selves (first selves) is blurring. More and more often, what we do online feeds through into our real lives and has a profound affect. The same applies vice versa. If a real life action happens, it follows into our online lives through other cyborgs granting the instance possible virality and a permanent status on the internet.

Our modern society is built upon panic architecture. It instills the need to constantly check our social media accounts for updates and notifications. Those who do not see themselves as a target to this architecture, does not not mean they do not fall victim to it. Panic architecture urges us to obsessively check and monitor our social media. Some like to believe that it is possible to escape this phenomenon but if work against, if we don’t fight this compulsion, we too could fall victim to the wrath of the blurred line between our second and first selves.






Watch Your Language.

This week I had my first encounter with a cyber lecture as part of a cyber culture module. Cyberculture is defined by Manovich as “online communities, online multi-player gaming, the issue of online identity, the sociology and the ethnography or email usage, cell phone usage in various communities; the issues of gender and ethnicity in Internet usage”(Cyberculture in Everyday Life).

I’ve found first hand there’s pros and cons to this such as replaying recorded lectures but you lose the physical interaction of speaking to somebody face to face. The first lecture consisted of the basics: cyberculture, the origins of memes and cultural artefacts. I found the latter quite interesting with symbols and language peaking my interest.

The changing language of cyberspace

Cyberculture exerts a high influence on how we communicate with each other (Cyberculture in Everyday Life). Pachler (Cited in Mobile Technology and the Cyberculture)  argues that “young people use new forms of communication which appear to include layers of meaning not accessible by ‘traditional’ language skills alone”. This suggests that despite the simple forms of communication young people use, there is a layer attached when sending, receiving and understanding a text message. There are many variations to choose from when texting,  and with today’s generation virtually inventing their own language as reported in (From WYCM to LH6), does this extra layer of complexity make young people lazy because of word abbreviations or does it make young people smarter?

Text speak
Image by Workshop Marketing

Is texting making us lazy?

People often argue about new technology and how it would affect language (2b or not 2b). “2b or not 2b” indicates that there is resistance towards technology because of its negative effect on language.

John Sutherland of University College London (cited in 2b or not 2b) suggests text slang is like a digital virus arguing the way people text in modern days is bleak, bald and sad shorthand. He adds it “masks dyslexia, poor spelling and mental laziness. Sutherland feels that modern day texting does not contribute or improve intelligence or literacy as he states “texting is penmanship for illiterates”.

John Humphrys is a similar thinking to Sutherland as he suggests that texting is decimating language as he compares people who text to the actions of Genghis Khan 800 years ago (I h8 txt msgs). He adds texters are destroying language and ransacking vocabulary.

I h8 txt msgs suggests that the point of texting somebody is to save time, but argues abbreviations and emojis make it difficult for the recipient to decode the message thus rendering the texting process inadequate. But 2b or not 2b argues that texting was used as a quick way to share information with somebody, adding the longer the message becomes, the more information it contains, the higher the amount of standard language is used. Perhaps just shorter text messages were abbreviated for convenience, but senders knew they needed to be understood, so the more complex the message, the more standardised it became (2b or not 2b).

Abbreviated words are not a new phenomenon, they were used in puzzles, as brain teasers and everyday life. Words such as fridge and exam are actually abbreviated from refrigerator and examination and have effectively become new words (2b or not 2b).

old nokia phone. blockia
Nokia 3210. Image from Wikipedia Commons


2b or not 2b argues that older phones with the 12 button keypads were not linguistically sensible, that letter frequency was not taken into consideration regarding the design suggesting that it took 4 button presses to get the regular occurring letter ‘s’ whereas the less frequent letter ‘q’ only took two presses on the same button which could have led to practice of abbreviating in text messages. 2b or not 2b suggests that texting abbreviations became obligatory because of their ability to reduce time and awkwardness when texting.

It is clear that technology is changing out culture affecting our communication needs (I h8 txt msg). The need for quick and accurate dissemination of messages is increasing and so is our need for technology to accompany it.