Wednesday 13 October 2010

>Hack it

 Verb// to cut a path through something.
Noun// no appropriate definition exists.
Source// Chambers online dictionary
Failure// to comprehend the nature/ethos/etymology or life approach of a really rather large amount of people.

//Once upon a time there was a film called Hackers. It showed a bunch of teenagers cracking passwords (obtaining them illegally without the owners knowledge by running dictionary look up programmes against a password entry field), logging into systems and changing them. Most notably, at the end of the film, they 'hack', by which I mean to say they gain access illegally, to the traffic light system of New York City. For reference, a situation not without the realms of possibility, as proved in Los Angeles, where losing control of only 4 traffic light hubs caused gridlock. "Hack the planet" becomes the rather ridiculous tagline of the film, inducing millions of script kiddies the world over to think they actually can.

//Even before that, there was Kevin Mitnick. A 'real' hacker, who infiltrated the security systems of real companies, at the time of his eventual arrest, he was considered to be the most wanted computer criminal in the United States. He used something called social engineering, which we'll come to later, to obtain passwords, hack systems, hack networks and copy protected data. In the traditional sense of the word, Kevin Mitnick was a hacker. In a rather more common turn of events than most will ever realise, Mitnick now runs his own computer security consultancy, Mitnick Security Consulting LLC.

//In the middle of all this, Loyd Blankenship aka The Mentor wrote The Hacker Manifesto. It was fuelled by an arrest and possibly quite a justified one. Who knows. Who can ever know. But the fundamental truths which eminated and resonated from his words echo down the years, and even now speak to the hearts of the kids who are now adults who never stopped asking the question. All of the questions, the big and the small, the easy and the hard.
My crime is that of curiosity. My crime is that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look like.
Curiosity is not a crime. The direction it gets directed towards can make it become the motivator to commit a crime. The world changed.

//Hack. A word. It can mean many things to many different people. A lot of people think of the Mitnicks of this world when I say the word and I'm left floundering a little, trying to backtrack out of the corner I've verbally painted myself into, rather than explain the following, the subtle nuances, the blacks and the whites and the shades of grey, the morals, ethics and social engineering pitfalls, where manipulation becomes brain hacking others and where brain hacking yourself simply means 'temet nosce'.

//Hacking, to me and many others, is nothing to do with a computer network. It's to do with efficiency. Finding the shortest path to the quickest solution. It's about learning keyboard shortcuts so that windows can fly open and shut as if by magic so hands don't need to leave the keyboard, thus wasting precious time. It's about knowing you can hit enter on most text boxes to submit. It's about knowing that hitting U a few times in a country dropdown box will always get you to United Kingdom without using the mouse, but it's about so much more.

It's about learning the shortcuts. It's about the fact that most people turn left when entering a theme park, so always turning right and not having to queue except at the crossover rides, which can be circumnavigated by Q Jump tickets provided at the entrance. It's about standing at the right end of the platform on the tube, so that you are at the exit when you get off at the other end. It's about finding the side of the stage at a festival that no one ever bothers to walk to cos they're drunk and not thinking straight and having half a field to dance in to The Prodigy.

It's a thousand different things, from making your own cables to connect technology, to hacking your own brain so that you behave in a different way and become a better person. But social engineering is where I draw the line.

\\Social engineering. You may as well call it manipulation. The cold calculated process of looking at the human race as nothing more than data packets being directed by routers around a network, and picking those packets out of the network, draining them for all their knowledge, and then placing them back into the network none the wiser, while you run off and take the credit for all their ideas. Looking at people as sheep, and using it to your advantage by predicting peoples behaviour and then maliciously manipulating that information for your own gain. Catching someone at their most vulnerable and distracted and asking them a difficult question that you know is likely to ellicit an honest answer when it wouldn't normally. Seeing peoples motivations clearly, and dangling carrots in front of them, only to whip them away when you've got what you want from them. Pretending to play nice and not being honest about your motivations.

With geeks, real geeks, there is no guarantee of nice play. Social engineering was a term coined by hackers who are geeks who use what they know of the human race to get passwords and other 'helpful' data out of them. It is, essentially, the cold hard manipulation of a person.

That's the line. Processes can be hacked. Workflows. Websites to be more efficient and engage with people better. Big society, as a concept, is just a hack. A hack of the way society behaves, a massive behaviour change.

Ultimately, hack, to me, just means change something for the better, be that more efficient, more cost effective, more streamlined, more friendly, more engaging, even prettier.

It does not mean take advantage of the stupid people.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know that about amusement parks! I use all the other day-to-day stuff you list, though. Thanks for the context.