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

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