To plan and implement a good security strategy, first be aware of
some of the issues which determined, motivated attackers exploit to
compromise systems. But before detailing these issues, the terminology used
when identifying an attacker must be defined.
The modern meaning of the term hacker has origins
dating back to the 1960s and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
(MIT) Tech Model Railroad Club, which designed train sets of large scale
and intricate detail. Hacker was a name used for club members who discovered a
clever trick or workaround for a problem.
The term hacker has since come to describe everything from computer
buffs to gifted programmers. A common trait among most hackers is a
willingness to explore in detail how computer systems and networks
function with little or no outside motivation. Open source software
developers often consider themselves and their colleagues to be hackers,
and use the word as a term of respect.
Typically, hackers follow a form of the hacker
ethic which dictates that the quest for information and
expertise is essential, and that sharing this knowledge is the hackers
duty to the community. During this quest for knowledge, some hackers
enjoy the academic challenges of circumventing security controls on
computer systems. For this reason, the press often uses the term hacker
to describe those who illicitly access systems and networks with
unscrupulous, malicious, or criminal intent. The more accurate term for
this type of computer hacker is cracker — a
term created by hackers in the mid-1980s to differentiate the two
Within the community of individuals who find and exploit
vulnerabilities in systems and networks are several distinct
groups. These groups are often described by the shade of hat that they
"wear" when performing their security investigations and this shade
is indicative of their intent.
The white hat hacker is one who tests networks
and systems to examine their performance and determine how vulnerable
they are to intrusion. Usually, white hat hackers crack their own
systems or the systems of a client who has specifically employed them
for the purposes of security auditing. Academic researchers and
professional security consultants are two examples of white hat
A black hat hacker is synonymous with a
cracker. In general, crackers are less focused on programming and the
academic side of breaking into systems. They often rely on available
cracking programs and exploit well known vulnerabilities in systems to
uncover sensitive information for personal gain or to
inflict damage on the target system or network.
The grey hat hacker, on the other hand, has
the skills and intent of a white hat hacker in most situations but
uses his knowledge for less than noble purposes on occasion. A grey
hat hacker can be thought of as a white hat hacker who wears a black hat at
times to accomplish his own agenda.
Grey hat hackers typically subscribe to another form of the hacker
ethic, which says it is acceptable to break into systems as long as
the hacker does not commit theft or breach confidentiality. Some
would argue, however, that the act of breaking into a system is in
Regardless of the intent of the intruder, it is important to
know the weaknesses a cracker may likely attempt to exploit. The
remainder of the chapter focuses on these issues.