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Article by Mohan Babu


Unravelling a hacker’s motive

There might be no definite answers why individuals become hackers and what motivates them to hack into computer systems. MOHAN BABU reminds us that different hackers have different motives. The glorified maverick hackers typically hack because of the perceived challenges presented to them.

In the previous column, we looked at some of the basics of information security, viruses, preventative measures using software patches, upgrades, and virus guards. In this column, we will build up on some of the insights I gained while talking to people in the industry along with interesting references to a book that I read recently—The Fugutive Game: Online with Kevin Mitnick, by Jonathan Littman—on a famous hacker Kevin Mitnick. As you might have guessed by now, information security is a cat-and-mouse game with the hackers or “bad guys” trying their best to stay ahead of the “cops.” They attempt to exploit the known and unknown vulnerabilities of software systems and make every effort to penetrate the systems.

Who is a hacker?

In the book, the author quotes Kevin Mitnick saying: “A computer hacker? It’s a person who can figure out ways of bypassing security. Whatever way you get in, using technology upon the system, hardware bugs, tricks. That’s what I consider to be a hacker. It’s not being a super programmer.”

In another section of the book, Mitnick is also quoted as saying: “On one level, the hack is simple, a clever strike at a basic weakness of the Internet. Computers on the Internet are often programmed to trust other computers. The Internet was created to share information, and the attack on Shimomura, just like the Robert Morris Internet Worm attack seven years before, exploits that trust…. The Internet has its own way of sending e-mail or files. Messages or files are split into smaller digital chunks or packets, each with its own envelope and address. When each message is sent, it’s like a flock of birds that migrates to a planned location and reunites as a flock at the destination. Computers on the Internet often act like great flocks of birds that trust one another too. And all it take is one enemy bird to infiltrate the flock.”

The reason

While there are no definitive answers here, it is anybody’s guess why individuals become hackers and what motivates them to hack. As a matter of fact different hackers have different motives. The glorified maverick hackers typically hack because of the perceived challenges presented to them. In the book, Mitnick justifies hacking as follows: “The bus goes down the street anyway. In my mind, they’ve built the service. It’s like the people who hijack cable TV. I don’t think I’m invading anyone’s privacy. Everybody’s open game for that. The government invades your privacy every day. I just like to have the same ability the government does.”

Mitnick goes on to justify making copies of hard-to-get software in the same vein, “Kind of in my own mind picture it as, hay, going to a video store and getting a copy of Jurassic Park, and making a copy of it. Their copy is still intact and untouched and unharmed. I have a copy of it. I’m not going to invite people over and charge them admission to watch the film, yet I have it for my own viewing. Few people get busted for making a single copy of Jurassic Park, or for that matter, a single copy of Microsoft Windows.” Needless to say, the author of the book does not condone hacking, and goes on to add “…but then the programs Mitnick supposedly copied aren’t anything like videos or commercial software. If they are for sale, they’d be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars.”

Although these ideas quoted do not cover all the intricacies involved in hacking, they perhaps give an idea of what is in a hacker’s mind. The book was a fascinating read since the author delves into the cloak-and-dagger world of hacking and cyber-policing and chronicles the story of Mitnick’s arrest.

Where there are bad guys, there are bound to be cops. Information security management is a niche area of IT that has gained prominence in recent years and many companies are investing heavily to protect their systems. For this article, I had an opportunity to interact with Manoj Kumar, an information security expert with Timken Corp.

When asked about his views on security, Kumar said: “Business leaders and IT managers should work on a customised solution for each aspect of their organisation’s systems. The level of security should depend on the nature of the asset. For instance, a financial institution will have to focus on building a high level of security for its core financial application and interfaces with other organisations and the Web portal. If the resources are limited, it may do so at the cost of providing extra-high security for its informational portal.”

Kumar went on to add, “The analogy here is to a supermarket which locks its expensive perfumes, jewellery, and CD players behind a glass door; whereas it may only have a few security cameras around its grocery or produce section.”

As the awareness of security across the corporate world increases, systems across the Net will become more secure. Till that happens, companies will also have to factor the overall cost of securing their systems and begin by locking their “expensive perfumes, jewellery, and CD players” behind secure environments.





About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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