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What is Computer Hacking?
In layman terms, a hacker is a person who breaks into computers and/or computer networks. This is generally done either for profit or simply for the challenge. There are three subsets of people who attempt to hack a computer or computer network, these are:
The hobbyist: This is the home computer enthusiast who wants to get the most out of his computer hardware/software. In this day and age all sorts of electronics can be hacked. These users are usually harmless and break no major laws.
The geek: This is the computer user who wants to know how things work and takes pride in hacking a computer program or a piece of computer hardware. This person generally starts off seeking knowledge but oftentimes they end up breaking the law while seeing what they are capable of.
The hacker: This is a person, usually of high intelligence, who attempts to circumvent computer systems and networks with malicious intent. The hacker is looking to do damage to a system (for any number of reasons), steal information from a system or profit from the network intrusion. These users break laws just like any other criminal in their quest to damage, steal or exploit a computer system or network.
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What are Some of the More Famous Hacks in History?
Kevin Mitnick, often incorrectly called the god of hackers, broke into the computer systems of some of the world's top technology companies: Fujitsu, Nokia, Sun Microsystems and Motorola to name a few. He was arrested by the FBI in 1995, but was released on parole in 2000. Mitnick never termed his activity hacking, he instead liked to call it social engineering. Regardless of what you call it, it is a crime and Kevin Mitnick has now donned a "white hat" and is said to now work for the forces of good.
Kevin Poulsen pulled off one of my favorite hacks in history. When a Los Angeles area radio station announced a contest to award a Porsche to the 102nd caller, Poulsen took control of the entire city's telephone network. Through this hack he ensured that he was the 102nd caller, and took away the Porsche. He was arrested later that year and sentenced to three years in prison. He is currently a senior editor at Wired News.
Adrian Lamo is responsible for some of the more visual hacks in history. From Yahoo! to the New York Times, he is credited with all types of network intrusions and security violations. The scariest thing about Lamo is that he bypasses security and gains unauthorized access to huge well protected networks with such ease. Lamo appeared on the NBC Nightly News at one point, and when challenged to prove his talents, he calmly gained access to the NBC internal network in less than four minutes, all while still on camera. After years of being watched by the authorities Lamo is now a security expert who helps companies secure their networks against hackers like him.
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What Are the Possible Consequences of Computer Hacking?
If you are here looking for legal information regarding hacking a network, you should be aware that hacking (or cybercrime) is a crime now dealt with in the US and Canadian court systems. Like breaking into a persons house with the intention of doing damage or stealing, gaining unauthorized access to a computer network is punishable by law. You could face jail time and some hefty fines should you get caught, not to mention having your access to computers restricted and your travel to other countries restricted even after you pay your fines and serve your prison sentence.
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A Last Word of Advice
I am not a lawyer and the information contained in this article does not replace the advice of legal council. If you have been accused of a hacking offence or computer related crime be sure to retain council and follow the advice of said council.
For more information on what is considered hacking by the US Government and the possible charges please visit USLEGAL.
If you are aware of a hacking or computer related crime in the US you can report it at the US CyberCrime website.
Images courtesy of Stock.Xchng.