- Internet & the Web
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.
John T. Draper
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?
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