How to become a hacker… now with 80% more pictures.

Around con time, I’m frequently asked ‘how to become a computer hacker’. Since it’s a delightfully non-specific question, I have decided to illustrate my response for posterity:

Hacking Flowchart

The most critical things when getting into infosec are the right attitude, curiosity, and interest, a solid foundation of technical knowledge, and the motivation to take advantage of the amazing resources that our peers have made available. Unfortunately, a lot of people forget the early steps and delve straight into hacking tool guides, without first covering the basics and developing a deep interest in understanding how to manipulate computers. This is what really divides the bad, from the good, from the great.

Community

One of my friends commented today as the infosec community broke into another quabble that,

Okay. Let’s step back for a moment. Disagree or agree with me, but kindly let me present an argument.

Have you ever read the ‘Conscience of a Hacker’? The Mentor wrote it – it was published in 1986. Regardless of what you think of the author, it brilliantly exposited for years to come what being a hacker meant to more than one generation. It meant a lot to me, personally. Maybe it will mean something to you.

  "I am a hacker, enter my world...
        Mine is a world that begins with school... I'm smarter than most of
the other kids, this crap they teach us bores me...
        Damn underachiever. They're all alike."

I’ll link it here without further commentary. It remains profoundly influential and relevant. I’m not going to post it here, but you should probably read it: http://phrack.org/issues/7/3.html

That feeling of being on the edge of something incredibly new and open may have faded. If it has, I’m truly sorry, because we’re still living on the edge of the new. That’s the big secret. There’s always something new that begs to be taken apart.

Most of us aren’t in school anymore. We work for corporations and organizations. Some of us work for the feds. And that’s okay.

When we’re paying our taxes or putting our kids to bed, that feeling that we don’t quite fit in might just still nag at us. Sometimes, people still look suspiciously at us and nervously crack jokes when we try our damnedest to explain what we do for a living. I’ll tell you from experience, it doesn’t matter how amicably you present yourself – “I’m a hacker” doesn’t go over particularly well at reunions. Some of us are very good at fitting in, and some of us find it a lot more difficult. That’s okay, too.

Many of us have money now, and freedom. We’re still too smart, and the combination of those things multiplies into a thousand eclectic hobbies and impossible achievements. We’re hackers, but we’re also home-brewers and martial artists and authors and skydivers and tinkerers and tattoo artists (and smartasses). We aged well.

This was supposed to the age of the electron and the switch, and even the criminals ended up on 8AM conference calls. Tough. We still have so many advantages and opportunities that others don’t. We still see the world through that very special lens that is unique to us – figuring out how to take things apart and put them back together into something changed just enough. We have a community of some of the greatest minds in the world, but sometimes our personalities get beyond us and then we’re back to being that frustrated kid in the back of the classroom trying to shout at the world. (“Listen to me! This is wrong! Let me show you why!”)

Sometimes we still find ourselves at odds with society, but we are many now. We have a voice across channels and social media. We have conferences and meet-ups that span every continent. Perhaps perversely, people go to school to try to learn to do what we do. Some of them succeed, while others fail. It’s all still amazing, because every so often, a new hacker realizes he or she has found a home. These are my people, and they are like me. I’ve seen the pride that a large portion of our community takes in that.

Conversely, our private little world has been infringed upon by every aspect of ethical and unethical human society. Today, hackers are often the ones who wage war, murder, cheat, and lie. Sometimes we lose friends to drugs, and alcohol, and illness. We have to come to terms with that, and take some responsibility in dealing with it.

Caught in the middle of all of these conflicting things, don’t ever lose sight of what it means to be a hacker. We are part of something truly damn amazing and we’re still outsmarting the world, 30 years later.

"I know everyone here... even if I've never met them, never talked to
them, may never hear from them again... I know you all..."

This is still a place where we belong. As unique as we are, we’re still alike.

[Love you all.]