The History of Computer Hacking


What is a Hacker?

Hacking is a word that is largely misunderstood. It carries a lot of weight in it's letters and a negative connotation. Is that really fair though? Would you be surprised if I said, "hackers are a good thing"? Let's take a look at the history of a computer hacker and see before we are too quick to judge.

Hackers didn't start with computers, first of all. I think the first indication of hacking was in 1878 when Alexander Graham Bell busted a few school boys trying to figure out how the telephone worked just two years after he invented it.

Telephone calls are now very affordable but when I was a teenager - most people could not afford to chat long distance. It was very costly. For this reason, if you had friends or family that didn't live close enough for a local call - you wrote a letter. On paper! Then you licked a stamp and put your note in the mailbox and waited. Talk about snail mail. Hopefully, you might get an answer in a few weeks via returned mail.

This is when hacking actually started to gain notoriety. The word "hacker" would face a precarious future with it's name, often causing undue stress upon it's utterance.

It all started with a box of Captain Crunch.

The telephone company used to own the lines that transmit verbal communication. There was one telephone company South Western Bell, one long distance service. AT & T. You didn't have a choice. If you wanted to have a phone in your home - you paid the set price through Southwestern Bell Telephone Company and AT & T. The price of a long distance phone call was astronomical. It was not unusual to pay a dollar or two per minute.

I knew that someday, someone would find a way to make calls cheaper but until then, my family could not afford to call their sisters or brothers every day. When you did, the phone company set times that would be cheaper for those of us who could not otherwise afford to hear the sound of our loved one's voices.

When I used to complain to my grandmother that I couldn't have this or that because my family could not afford such things she would say to me, "Kelly, don't whine to me about money there is more than one way to skin a cat."

That used to freak me out a little bit. I mean first of all - why the hell would anyone want to skin a cat just once? But you didn't ask grandma - her standard answer was, "you'll figure it out when you need to know!" She would kinda shout that too so you just learned to shut your trap, another fond saying of hers.

So, I wondered what she meant by that, and I knew that someday the answer would become crystal clear.

When I heard about Captain Crunch a/k/a John Draper, I knew this was exactly the kind of thing my grandmother was referring to. These were just some people who found an alternate way to get what they wanted. Most people will want to judge this case right on point, but if I informed you that Draper was in the U.S. Air Force and during his duty he was just helping a couple fellow soldiers make some phone calls home would that change your mind about the dirty deed?

John T. Draper figured out that a whistle he had gotten as a prize in box of Captain Crunch made a tone that matched the 2600Hz frequency tone that Ma Bell used to trigger it's phone system. John figured out, in fact, that all he had to do was use that whistle to gain entrance to the social stratification layer that affords phone calls all day long. And so he did.

Who is spying on whom?


Phone Phreaks

Draper himself, was operating on another frequency, perhaps. His eccentric behavior was notable by everyone's description. He clearly did not care about his appearance. He built a radio station in his room and in a car! He drove around so that it would be more difficult for him to be tracked. Draper lives off the grid, still.

His fascination with technology would eventually lead him to the college dorm of Steve Wozniak. The two of them also teamed up with none other than Steve Jobs. Together they would make history as the people who invented "phone phreaking."

They designed a box that would transmit the signals necessary for anyone to make conference calls or long distance calls. That eventually came to a bad end after Wozniak began to make and sell the devices to his friends. Lots of 800 calls would be the road to ruin in this case.

Computers, on mainframes.

Computers are now much different than they used to be. Originally they were on a mainframe system. Computers used different operating systems. They were huge, slow and the processes to fix issues that rose were so difficult and time consuming that technicians began to find short cuts to get back into the system.

That, is hacking.

Hackers have gained so much negativity that people do not stop to realize what the world would be like without hacking.

Life of Hacker Kevin Mitnik

Secrets and Lies

Without hacking, I can only imagine what the government would keep secret from it's citizens. As it stands, the government holds any secret they deem that the "public" could not tolerate. There have been numerous experiments and conspiracies that everyone knows the government tried to cover up.

Hackers do help keep people honest. There have been many instances where if not for hackers finding out truths, we would just be blindly listening to everything the government decides wouldn't be good for us to know. I do hope that the government at least knows that little brother is watching. I am not a hacker but I am counting on some wild card that has a need to know and share.

Hackers also help spot weaknesses in the security of a system. There are two groups of hackers "white hats" and "black hats". Some hackers identify with one or the other or both. I really wonder though, if a hacker just can't stand the challenge of knowing there is a system they can't hack.

There were ultimately, many convictions in courts, people served time in jail. Hackers kept hacking. Groups, clubs, conferences and many meetings have convened in it's wake. Some of the pioneers would go on to become revered millionaires and moguls.

Child pornographers, government secrets and lies would be revealed due to hackers.

Right now, groups are being formed for children that will be the hackers of our future.

Hacking just might be more than it's cracked up to be! I am keeping an open mind and when I hear the word "hacker" I don't instantly think "bad guy."

"If you give a hacker a new toy, the first thing he will do is take it apart and figure out how it works." ~Jaime Zawinski

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Comments 44 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

Well that was very interesting Kelly! I knew very little about this but now I am a fountain of knowledge because of your great hub!

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO Author

Hi Bill! I was so absorbed in the reserach it was difficult to decide what tid bits to add here! So interesting!

Thank you very much! I bet we will both be paying a little more attention to the news that may come up in the future!

MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 4 years ago from South Africa

Wow, realhousewife, I haven't looked this way to hackers. Thank you for giving me a positive perspective.

I believe there is 'good' and 'bad' in everything and also in everyone of us.

Voted up and awesome, and this go straight to my personal library in FB.... :)

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO Author

Hi Martie dear! Yah...there are good reasons for hacking so I was just wanting to point out the other side. Get people to think about that. Some words are truly misunderstood and I think this is one of them!!

Thank you so much:)

Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

I remember when we would try and save money on a phone bill when I was first started traveling away from home. I'd call home collect asking for myself so that my parents would know that I'd reached my destination safely. The things you do to save a few bucks :)

Technology has sure come a long way. I'm happy to say "Knock On Wood" I've never been hacked at least to my knowledge.

I had to laugh at your closing sentence quote by Jaime Zawinski. I used to love to take things apart to see if I could put them back together.

Interesting hub.

cclitgirl profile image

cclitgirl 4 years ago from Western NC

I always think of hackey-sacks when I think "hacker." LOL. This is a really interesting history. Who knew? Very interesting - the government is getting a bit of "hack" - someone just hacked the website. Very interesting. Thumbs up on this!

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO Author

Hi Susan - I remember those days! And if someone would have given me a free ticket for a call to my mom or grandpa or grandma I would have taken it! lol I loved them that much:) I used to do that stuff to - just call and let it ring three times and hang up - that was the code that I was safe and sound where I said I was gong to be. Even to go one town over was long distance. I lived in such a rural area you were in cow town then. Nothing - not even a store for MILES! School was 10 miles from my house - one way. I wasn't allowed to call any of my friends unless they were in my area code.

I do love taking stuff apart and always have. When I turned five, I got this clock and you had to put it together to make it work. I did. And thus my thirst for how things go together began. This is extremely interesting to me too because I did work troubleshooting equipment as a profession. Polygraphs are made using huge magnets, osillographs, pens, filters that set frequencies for the incoming signals that I wanted to make clearer on the page. Frequencies were everything! Band widths we can't see - but they rule the universe. Radios, tv's, microwaves and yep - cell phones- all operate on frequencies of waves in the atmosphere that we just can't see! Fascinating:)

Thanks so much and I hope we never experience any visits from the Black Hats:) lol

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO Author

Hey Cyndi - yeah I was pretty fascinated with it. And a few times the government has been hacked! Once a group got into the CIA's website and changed their face page to "Central Stupidity Agency"...terrible...but they were just letting them know they were there is all. They probably needed to go close the back door so other's couldn't get in the same way!!

Thank you so much!

MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 4 years ago from South Africa

Oh, I had to come back because I forgot to vote. That voting-box doesn't 'work' properly where HubPages have it now. It is not prominent enough; one tends to overlook it. Maybe someone can hack their frequency and change everything for the better?

Thanks again for this very interesting hub, realhousewife :)

Julie DeNeen profile image

Julie DeNeen 4 years ago from Clinton CT

What a cool article!! I liked it a lot :) nice work Kelly!

MyWebs profile image

MyWebs 4 years ago from Sheridan, WY

Great hub you have here. My understanding of the proper use of the term hacker is to mean someone who figures out how to make something do something it wasn't intended to do, hacking. Like for example if I download a PHP script and make changes to add new functionality I have 'hacked' the code.

What most people mislabel as hacking is actually called cracking, breaking into computer systems via a weakness of some type. Voted up and as useful.

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO Author

Thank you! I know I sometimes forget to vote - so now I always do it before I comment because if you don't - you off and running! lol So yeah it would be good if some nice hacker could clean that business up:)LOL

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO Author

Thanks Julie - I usually just have fun with it - and write about anything that interests me so I end up with a wide variety of topics:) I do get a ton of laughs and learn some interesting stuff along the way - but you know what I mean!

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO Author

Hey MyWebs - thank you! Yeah hacking is finding another way in. The way I see it - computer code is a language. We see it all the time but since I don't speak it - I have no idea what it's meaning is. Hackers understand and speak that language. They know how to crack the codes or how to find alternate routes - or make up new language to trick the programs and allow them entrance. They know how to use numbers and letters of those codes and add loops for instance to gain entry.

I am quite fascinated with languages and codes. I guess because it is all about communication. When I saw Kevin Mitkin's video too - I could really see that it just began as kids doing some tricks they learned. Messing with the McDonald's speakers and intercepting phone calls.

My husband used to have a friend that would drive up to his house - tune his phone in (cordless) and listen for a few minutes. Then he would walk in and start repeating whatever Dave was just discussing on the phone. It wasn't hard. So - remember when you are on any computer or phone? Who knows who might be listening in? lol

josh3418 profile image

josh3418 4 years ago from Pennsylvania


This was so fascinating! I thoroughly enjoyed this and had no idea there were positive connotations! I enjoyed the history and the style in which you presented it. You know me being funny, I couldn't help but laugh at this one..."why the hell would anyone want to skin a cat just once? "

LOL, great job Kelly!

lauramaryscott profile image

lauramaryscott 4 years ago from Boise, Idaho

Wow, realhousewife, thanks. I enjoyed your article. I have always admired those who exposed the truth to the public. We need more of it. We also need hackers to catch the black hats. Thanks for sharing.

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO Author

haha right Josh - I used to think I would NEVER get that little riddle. But you didn't ask my grandma for too much explanation - she told you once! LOL LOL She was right though - all those little saying she had kicked in at just the right minute. She was a clever, clever woman:)

Thanks and yeah - when you hear the word 'hacker' next time I bet this will make ya think! LOL May not be bad, huh? I thought the article was cute about the Def Con kids -the little 8 year old who says, "I am not really a hacker but my brother is! I hope to be one!" hahaha

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO Author

Hey lauramaryscott - Thank you so much! I do too and we need those kind of people. I like the way the hackers in Germany discovered they were being monitored by their government via Skype! Interesting...and what else do you think a corrupt goernment might do if no one was watching them? IDK! I have a feeling there would be a lot of partying going on in Washington!

Thanks a bunch!

rajan jolly profile image

rajan jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

Kelly, this is interesting stuff. In the light of this information hackers, the good guys, would be definitely glad they a sympathiser in you! Seriously, however, I agree these hackers are doing a great job in the exposing the muck.

Thanks for increasing my knowledge. Voted up and interesting. Shared this.

profile image

IntegrityYes 4 years ago

WHOA! That is so informative. I voted up.

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO Author

Hey rajan - yeah it really does shed new light on them doesn't it? I was thoroughly fascinated with all the information I found. I watched the videos and read their blogs and I admired many of these guys that we call "hackers." They were really smart kids and just learning faster than the guys that built the stuff. Kid geniuses in many cases.

Thanks a lot - I really appreciate the votes and comments!

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO Author

Thanks IntegrityYes! I had a great time doing research for this hub. I will probably continue to read about some of these guys and their histories. I have a much better grasp of what a hack is and what one isn't - and it isn't necessarily a bad thing!

Thanks again:)

peoplepower73 profile image

peoplepower73 4 years ago from Placentia California

Great article. I like your writing style. If it wasn't for hackers, we may not have won WWII. It was the British Code Breakers that broke the German Enigma code that allowed the allied forces to know the what, when, and where of the German military. Voting up, interesting, and sharing.

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO Author

Hi peoplepower - that is awesome! I did not know that and yeah - I am really enlightened. I have come to the realization that we need hackers and I like 'em:) LOL Why don't I think my mom would be surprised by this? LOL

Seriously though - it is so interesting to me. I had a terrific time doing the research for this hub and I am glad you enjoyed it!

Ruchira profile image

Ruchira 4 years ago from United States

seriously did not know about hacking and it's origin until now.

aye to captain crunch :) also, talking about snail forgot to mention of the days when pigeons were used to deliver messages...oh boy, those were some

thanks god for the present..our patience sure was tested then.

many votes, kelly on this informative hub and interesting too. sharing it across!

dwachira profile image

dwachira 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

Hi RealHousewife, you have put it across very well here, huckers keep software producers at their toes, it means users will always get high standard products. On the other side, it can mean loss of revenue or business. Voted up, useful, Twitted and shared on Flipora.

traslochimilano profile image

traslochimilano 4 years ago from USA

Great Hub. Liked and share it

sparkster profile image

sparkster 4 years ago from United Kingdom

Great hub and very right too! Hacking can sometimes be a blessing in disguise. Just look at how the world reacted to the recent hacking of Sony's Playstation network only to find out that their personal details were stored in plain text format!

Then there's my favourite case of Gary McKinnon who hacked into NASA, DoD, US Army, US Air Force, etc.

Lord De Cross profile image

Lord De Cross 4 years ago

Were you spying on me Kelly? This was fun history indeed. Graham bell looked like the grinch from back then. 'Anonimous' is reading you.. and told their guys not to mess with your twitter account anymore. Hey! great read as always.... going to DC myself for an important meeting. Happy hubbing!

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO Author

Ha Ruchira! Oh gosh I tell my kids all the time - this world is so much different than my childhood world. No Internet, cable, computers, software!! Haha we played OUTside:) haha and I loved getting a letter in the mail! I'd write to my grand parents and relatives. Or friends - pen pals! Haha

Thanks so much and now I hope I've led you on the path to being a great hacker some day! Lol

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO Author

Thanks Dwachira! Yeah I happen to like hackers:) lol. I actually know a girl who aspires to be one:) LOL not me - I'm too old. My game was the polygraph...and I figured that machine out. I used to tell my husband - you lie to me - I'll hook you up and ask you those questions! Lol

Thanks so much for the read, votes and shares:)

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO Author

Hi traslochimilano - thanks so much! I appreciate that!

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO Author

Hey Sparkster - thank you! Yeah some of those guys are just genius! I can't help admiring them at all. And I am absolutely glad hackers are out there. I know they keep people honest! And keep an eye on those government agencies that who KNOWS what would be going on if they weren't a threat! Can you say "new world order?!" lol.

I loved the guys that went before a grand jury and they used their screen names during the testimony, they were helping the government and I laughed all the way through! Yay for the good guys eh?!

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO Author

Ha! I do hope Anonymous is watching out for me! Maybe they can make sure my wifi doesn't keep giving me the boot eh? Lol.

Hackers and the law kind of remind me of cowboys and Indians....and you know I'm an Indian:) LOL

Chuck RitenouR profile image

Chuck RitenouR 4 years ago from Front Royal, Virginia

My daughter went to EPCI for IT Security. When asked by the Dean of Admissions why she wanted her degree in that field, she replied she wanted to become a hacker. The Dean frowned and said, "but young lady, that's illegal."

She replied......not if you are doing it for the government. She has since graduated and now is employed by Homeland Security......just sayin'.

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO Author

Hey Chuck that is so cool! You tell your girl she has a huge admirer in St. Louis! I love her for being straight up and telling it like it is! Exactly right - the word "hacker" makes people cringe and it shouldn't. That isn't what it's all about!

Way to go to you too man, my daughter is in the Criminal Justice program and she is about to try to take the exams to get into the police academy. Dear God save me! I just know she finally thinks that she found a way she can trump me. I plan to be in jail, a lot if she makes it! haha!

rcrumple profile image

rcrumple 4 years ago from Kentucky

You do realize that Big Brother is watching you now! Hubpages is being hacked as they try to figure out how to silence the info you provide!

Great Hub! You provided a wealth of information.

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO Author

Yeah I know rcrumple! lol First I go writing about dead UFO investigators - moving right along to promoting hackers - what do ya think they will do to me? LOL LOL I will letcha know:) hahaha

Thanks - I do have a great time trying to pull out the best details and it is hard because there is so much interesting information out there! Like I really wish I would have thought to add a bit about how Draper went to visit with some blind kids - they used musical instruments to hack phone systems...fascinating detail huh? Wow!

Thank you very much!

tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 4 years ago from North Carolina

Fascinating real Realhousewife. You have many talents in many different areas. I am afraid I don't have hacking skills but I could imagine the benefits. Makes me wonder who is really watching. Great hub!

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO Author

Hahaha - Gosh Tammy I have no idea how to actually hack. I wish though - I mean it would be cool to understand all that. I wouldn't invest my time in it because I don't really want to look for things I don't want to find!! I'd just like other people to do the hard parts and share the interesting bits with me...then I will write about it! hahaha Yeah, not many people like to confide their deepest secrets to me? I don't get it! lol lol

ThoughtSandwiches profile image

ThoughtSandwiches 4 years ago from Reno, Nevada


You have turned my notions of hackers completely on end! So a cereal hacker would be Captain Crunch, huh? I have to wonder if that wikialeak guy who is hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy is a white hat or a black hat? I suppose it depends on which side of the secrets you are hiding on? Most informative my friend!


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO Author

Hey maybe I found a new career for you Thomas!! You can start with Facebook...according to Melanie that's a cinch! Hahha

Sharyn's Slant profile image

Sharyn's Slant 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

Wow Kel, you truly made me see the positive side of computer hacking. Really interesting. Great tid bits of information, well written. You can just tell how much you love to do research! Enjoyed learning about Captain Crunch too.

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO Author

Hi Sharyn - Captain Crunch makes me laugh and I wish I could meet him just one time! Gosh I would have a lot of questions for him!!! I'd bring a coupla note books.

Yeah who would have thought we should actually be glad those hackers are out there? I can find a bright side to just about anything:) lol

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