Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hack In Time...

"Hacking- Unauthorized attempts to bypass the security mechanisms of an information system or network" (

"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...

Phreak Out

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).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Illegal Downloads, Here to Stay?

FREE STUFF!!!!!!!!!!

Who likes free stuff? EVERYBODY! Who likes stealing stuff? Some people (shame on them). Who likes downloading illegal files for free off the Internet? EVERYONE! (note: not everyone). It seems weird that copying a series of numbers is illegal, but technically that's the case. These numbers represent information that contains the ideas and creativity and hard work of others. In this post I will talk about illegal downloads past, present , and future. I'll mention my own opinions, opinions of others, and give you something to think about what the future holds.
Times are Changing

After the invention of the MP3 format when songs were able to be compressed to much smaller sizes it resulted in an easy way to store and download them. Napster being the most popular at the time caused the music industry to lose a fortune over the illegal downloads of songs. The site has now been shut down and sued, but it was bought out by another company and turned into a legit subscription based service to legally download music from. Other companies (Apple being the best known) have sold over a billion songs on iTunes proving that a lot of people are very willing to pay money to download stuff legally. Napster getting shut down didn't stop similar companies like lime wire and frost wire from offering just as much if not more free files. It wasn't long after the music industry got hit that the movie industry was defeated by the all powerful Internet community. Compression methods once again made movies extremely easy to store and download and the up rise of peer-to-peer sharing made stealing movies just as easy with the use of bit torrents. But once again there are several popular companies that offer movies online such as Netflix and iTunes. Even easier than downloading is to simply stream videos or music online through sites like YouTube or Megavideo. Even if something becomes illegal in one country to access due to copyright laws then there are still tons of ways to circumvent those restrictions if the user REALLY wants to access it.


Should it be Illegal?


Everyone does it, nobody gets caught, So... should it be illegal? In theory yes since its taking something that is supposed to cost money. But since the odds of getting caught downloading something illegally are so insanely low people are (and should be) more scared of getting hit by lightning than getting charged for getting a free song or movie. With constantly changing technologies it is very hard for the law to stay updated with piracy. It seems like the "bad guys" will always win since as soon as a new format or encryption method is created it gets broken within a couple of days and then that content becomes free online. There are always lawsuits against various online websites/ services that provide access to illegal downloads. The Pirate Bay creators were sent to jail for providing access to torrent files that violated copyrights and gave their users access to illegal downloads. But there are TONS of other bit torrent search engine sites out there and lots of websites that let you download right off of their own servers or provide links to other sites that offer the files. All though obviously difficult the law really needs to 'shut down' all of these sites or let them all stay. There are lots of arguments for both sides over what should be legal/ illegal to download. As more and more content is becoming available online (ebooks, news papers, movies, music, games, etc...) there are several websites that offer the content for a price which keeps the entertainment industries happy, but there are far more sites that offer it for free. Perhaps enough people are morally obligated to use the paid services and to acquire the entertainment for a price, after all the entertainment industries haven't gone bankrupt yet.

No more used games?

Although a bit off topic something that should be mentioned is the video game industry and their attempts to change laws about the reselling of games. Some gaming companies like EA have started to include "online pass codes" that only allow the game to be played online if it is bought new and if it is bought used then a pass code must be purchased in order to play it online. But that's just for starters, most gaming companies want to ban the re-selling of games in retail stores since they don't make any money off of it (makes sense). Many gamers like myself are outraged by the proposal but it does make sense from the perspective of the game companies that have to spend hundreds of millions to develop the games. Even if its not exactly the same as illegally downloading something the idea is similar, the company sells a retail store a game ONCE and then the retail store sells it several times. The argument is used though that once you purchase something you should be able to give or sell it to whoever you want, but the gaming gods dont think this way. But luckily this is unstopable because even if the retail stores are not aloud to sell used games anymore, there will always be ways to get second hand games wheter its from the internet, a friend, or a sketchy guy in a van.


If you could download a car would you?

YES.. yes I would... One metaphor used to guilt trip people out of downloading illegally was to compare it with stealing a car. This was obviously non sense and the comparison wasn't really fair. BUT lets look deeper into the future and see what problems illegal copying can cause. In the information age (like the bronze age only with more electricity and robots) everyone has possessions, the difference now is that there are countless industries and individuals that lose a whole ton of money from anyone being able to download and use their property for free (music, movies, software, books, Scooby Doo the video game, etc....). Before the photocopier it was hard for people to make duplicates of pages at will. Before the Internet and the creation of all the different compression technologies it was hard for people to just copy and share media any time they wanted. The photo copier put a small dent in the sales of books, the Internet and it various media sharing services put a huge dent in several entertainment industries. So what happens in the future when nanotechnology improves and digital storage is greatly increased? Today there are already 3D printers, which use an ink like plastic to create small plastic parts based on a computer model into a real life 3D shape.


All though its FAAAAARRRR down the road, one day there will be "printers" that can build anything atom by atom based on data of how to build an object. This could cause a HUGE impact on the world by crippling almost every industry and could do as much if not more damage as the Internet did to digital items to everything else. All though it seems very sci-fi the impact of what that could do to the economy and society itself is mind blowing. So in theory illegally "downloading" a car for free might be a possibility. Just something to think about...