24 years ago the cult-classic movie Hackers was released. If you’re not familiar with the movie, the plot is straightforward. A teenage hacker who once crashed Wall Street is framed for stealing millions of dollars from a major corporation.
The movie came out at a time when people were still largely unfamiliar with the internet and emerging technology. The film took advantage of the ignorance, purporting to show the immense power, and terror, that could be caused from a keyboard.
Obviously cybercrime is a very real threat, but the Hollywood-driven misconceptions surrounding hackers are greatly exaggerated. To celebrate Hackers’ birthday, we thought it would be fun to highlight four common misconceptions about hacking.
1. All systems are interconnected
Some movies make it seem like the moment a hacker has access to one program, they can gain access to everything else. The idea that all systems are interconnected is absurd. If you talk to any IT expert at a major corporation or government, they’ll tell you that they wish all their programs seamlessly connected with each other. But such is not the case, and therefore, a hacker cannot take over an entire system with only your Twitter account.
2. You can hack into the mainframe over the internet
If you’re watching a movie from the nineties or early 2000s, and hear the phrase “hack the . . .”, there is a high likelihood that the next word will be “mainframe.” Movies make it seem like an expert hacker can gain access to a company’s secrets via any web page. But that’s not how it works. A smart organization won’t keep its most important information in a public-facing database. Sorry everyone, you can’t access the nation’s nuclear launch codes from Defense.gov.
3. Hacking is evil and illegal
Hackers are often portrayed as an evil person looking to cause havoc on the world. Oh, and these evil people always wear hooded sweatshirts. Right? Wrong.
Without question there are those who use technology to commit cybercrime. But there are also many who spend their time researching vulnerabilities not to exploit them, but to find and secure them. Often called White Hat hackers, or security engineers, these are the good guys and girls who work to keep information safe.
4. Hacking requires an expert and the latest software
Not every theft is pulled off like an Ocean’s Eleven heist with the latest technology and expert thieves. The same is true with hacking and cybercrime. But because that’s not sexy enough to sell tickets, Hollywood adds a little Matrix flavoring.
You don’t need to be a basement-dwelling computer geek to be a successful hacker. Many can master the basics in a few months. You also don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on the latest software. These days, the most common form of hacking is called web application hacking. Basically, it just means looking for vulnerabilities on websites. For minor tasks, you could get away with just a laptop. But if you’re looking to test hundreds of sites and parameters at once, you’ll want something a little more powerful so you don’t fry your processor.