"Hacking" has changed its meaning and methods over time. It started off by simply modifying and creating hardware and software, and now it can be anything from modifying software to stealing millions of dollars online with sophisticated techniques. In a more general sense it can be thought of as manipulating how a system works, anything from picking a lock to hypnosis could be considered a form of hacking. In this post we will look at hacking through the ages to see where it came from and predict where its going.
The Early Years
Nerds will be nerds. "Hacking" at one point was a positive word (to most people) it usually meant modifying something (electronic) and making it better or do something else than it was supposed to. Sometimes people would break into other computers just to prove that they could. There weren't many laws to do with computer security back in the day since most people didn't have or use them. Viruses weren't as devastating at the beginning of computing and done mostly as experiments for entertainment and educational purposes. The first virus was called "Creeper" which spread itself on ARPANET (before the "Internet" existed) it was self replicating but did no damage and simply displayed "I'm the creeper, catch me if you can!". Naturally this virus lead to the first anti-virus software called the "Reaper" which deleted the Creeper virus. The hacking community was similar to the "jail breaking" community which exists for the iPhone today where third party programmers get past the security features of Apple and make their own software for the system without Apple's approval. Even though it was done for mostly "tech demo" purposes it was obvious of the potential threat that bypassing computer security would have. With computers becoming used in every house hold and the Internet to connect them all together it was only a matter of time until unethical hacking started making a huge impact on society. But before "hackers" were the negative term that they are referred to as today, there was a different kind of hacking being done illegally, phone phreaking...
Phreaking is far less common today but involves 'hacking' phones in order to call places for free and other stuff of that nature. John Draper aka Captain Crunch was one of the most famous phone phreaks and got his name from the kazoo that he got out of a Captain Crunch cereal box which he used to phreak phones with. The famous hacking magazine 2600 was named after a frequency of 2600 hertz which was discovered in 1957 as a frequency that could be used to get free long distance calls by making the phone line think that the call was over. In the 70's the culture of phreaking expanded with the popularity of 'blue boxes' which was basically a DIY auto hacker for phones. Of course these became illegal and frowned upon shortly after they became known to the general public. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were once stopped by the police for operating a blue box that they made back before founding Apple. Of course as phone companies cracked down on phreaks and the Internet started to emerge phone phreaking became a fading art form and nerds everywhere shifted their focus to the web.
Age of the Internet
Once the Internet became more common, so did the hacker community. The web was an easy way to share information and to get help about how to hack into other computers and websites. Online banking and the usage of credit cards on online stores kept increasing and so did the drive of hackers to steal electronically. One of the most famous hackers named Kevin Mitnick used mostly social engineering (con artistry) to break into Motorola, IBM, Nokia, etc... He spent five years in jail (8 months of that was in solitary confinement). He was treated like a terrorist since the law was not very tech savvy back then and thought he could whistle into a phone and start a nuclear war (true story). Kevin now works as a security consultant and helps to make computers safer from people like him. As the Internet matured and so did computer laws it has become and ever increasing game of cat and mouse between hackers and security experts. The hackers always win eventually because what takes security companies millions of dollars to research and develop can usually get broken by someone within a few days. Even though encryption and overall computer security software is far better and far more common it is no comparison to what hackers are capable of achieving.
Is The Future Safe?
I doubt it... With the constantly increasing usage of the Internet and the more integrated websites become with every ones lives the safety of computer usage is declining as a whole. As everything seems to be moving towards cloud based computing (convenient but potentially dangerous) since if anyone gets the password for your account they can steal all your stored data. Sure encryption and security is better BUT something is only as strong as its weakest link and since most people use the same passwords for everything it only takes one weak website to be hacked in order to find out passwords for many users. Even the most extreme security methods such as quantum encryption (which can instantly changes its key if it is intercepted by a third party) has been broken by security researchers at the University of Toronto just recently. Computers are being put in more devices then ever and everything from smart phones to some cars will be a target to viruses which could do tons of damage. So with technology changing faster than the law can keep up with and hackers always being able to break new security features almost as soon as they come out the future doesn't look too bright for security. But then again maybe tougher laws and better technology could make it harder for the hackers (even a little bit).