Think You Know Hackers? Think AgainHackers are more than the stereotypes. This list gets you started on understanding those who understand your IT systems.
So, there's the distinct possibility I might have gone on a recent rant about hackers and hoodies, masks, gloves and how the media stereotypes us. Yes, it's true. We’ve all seen and read the stereotypes.
However, at the same time, we've managed to do the same to ourselves thanks to some over-zealous marketing departments. Now is as good a time as any to set the record straight.
With all of that being said I thought I'd build off the involvement I had in a recent piece by Ellen Chang of TheStreet.com in which she highlighted a few of the key things people don't know about those of us in this industry.
Without further ado, here are ten things (plus one bonus) that you may not know about hackers:
- Most of us do own hoodies. They are warm, versatile and comfortable to wear when out and about on physical penetration tests. However, most of us don't sit at the keyboard with the hood up, gloves on and our faces covered. Let's adjust the stereotypes, please.
- Most of us prefer black or darker colors. We travel a lot. We are not always able to stay in the best of shapes and black works to hide the extra padding we've accumulated (temporarily in many cases…) Let's face it, you don't want a bunch of slightly chubby hackers breaking into your offices wearing fuchsia or orange do you?
- Some of us will wear kilts a lot of the time. We wear them to conferences, to work, to meetings etc. Our community has no problem with kilts just as we have no problem with people identifying with anything they want to wear or be. Whatever you want to wear, whatever or whomever you want to be is acceptable in our community; the rest of the world needs to learn that lesson. However, if you call my kilt a skirt, I will hollow out your head with a spork and replace it with the guts of a ZX80.
- Many of us are self-taught. We have a thirst for knowledge that goes beyond just technical/traditional "geek" things. You'd be surprised if you engage us in conversation that we are typically well read and articulate if we could just work out how to converse with people sometimes.
- We are not always the best at communication. We typically think in patterns that are different than most others. We too often ask people to move out of the way and just let us "fix it" as opposed to taking the time to help educate all around us… and unfortunately, we don't like explaining things multiple times. We have to do a better job of communication with others at the user, manager and executive level, and they in turn need to do a better job of listening. It's a symbiotic relationship that both parties have to do a better job of understanding… we know it.
- Unfortunately we are a male-heavy industry. We don't want to be. We have a lot of work to do to be better at inclusiveness and understanding barriers and pretty much everything necessary to address the balances. We know it, we are working on it, the rest of the world could also take some lessons just as we have learned from others.
- We typically like to disassemble things. This is not done to cause problems but to understand how they work, to test them, to see if we can improve them and then to work out how to reassemble... often in a better form than the original. It's in our blood and our brains, accept it please. I took the household vacuum cleaner apart when I was eight to both see how it worked and to make a hovercraft... these days I do the same thing with companies and their tech.
- Most of us are in this realm to do good. We don't always go about it the right way, but the ultimate aim is to help things improve, to help humanity not go over the precipice or be sunk under the tsunami of technology that is upon us. We're not perfect but we want to help. So let us.
- Many of us are former military, government or something that involved using things other than keyboards. We are not the weak nerds that Hollywood likes to insinuate (neither are we the chiseled man-stud known as Chris Hemsworth) but again, when talking with us please understand that not only can we lob an exploit into your enterprise from across the globe, we can probably also shoot out the escape key on your keyboard from 1,000 yards.
- Get out of the "English" mindset. Again, thanks to mainstream media the "hacker" is a white male in their 20s and nothing could be further from the truth. The top country by scale is China, followed by the US and then we have a heap of other countries, most of whom don't have the pale white skin associated with the typical "hacker".
- Hacker and hacking is not a negative thing. The primary driving force for change and new inventions in this field is hacking, it is the simple ability to understand the status quo and be able to change it.
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So, there you have just a few insights into the hacker world. As a community, we could probably write a book's worth more. We have our issues and our challenges. We are growing up and working on how to be part of the enterprises we are charged with securing, how to be part of society even though many of us prefer to avoid it, and trying to work out how to navigate a path forward in this fragile technologically challenged world we exist in.
I hope that has helped. Let the debates begin!
Regarded as one of the world's foremost experts on counter threat intelligence within the cyber security industry, Chris Roberts is the chief security architect for Acalvio Technologies.