Computer hacking is unlike other computer crimes in that it does not have as distinct of definition in terms of action and the law (such as in the case of software piracy,) and is thus more difficult to define. Computer hacking typically includes some level of unauthorized access while including some kind of malice, such as the damage of files, software, or other items on the computer. The effects of hacking are numerous, some may come in the form of simply being irritating to others while some effects may be extremely destructing and classified as a felony. Hacking is shrouded in mystery, while the esteem that comes with such high levels being computer savvy and part of a highly skilled network adds to the allure of this in some respects (Stone, 1999). Clearly, computer hacking applies to all of these categories to some degree. Meanwhile, the common area of concern in this topic is the safety of electronic equipment and programs, as the potential for computer hacking to be damaging is very high. Thus, a question worthy of consideration is whether anyone with any level of computer skills can exploit the vulnerability of computer software commonly used in homes and businesses. The following will address the question: if computer hacking can be clearly defined, is it easy to do, and can it be prevented?
As mentioned, defining the word "hacker" is challenging, as the word can mean many things including: a person taking please in the exploration of software details in order to test the limits of programming and systems (in comparison to the average user only learning the requirements in a learning environment,) a person who is extremely enthusiastic with regards to software development beyond standard theory, an individual who can appraise hack value, a skilled individual who can develop software very rapidly, an master or enthusiast in any area (such as a biology hacker, or chemistry hacker) that enjoys the intellectual challenge, and still other definitions (Stone, 1999). The difference across these definitions are the ethics involved, clearly a computer hacker intending to ruin a business is performing an act much more unethical than an avid biologist 'hacking' away at his work or theory. The truth is that computer hacking is in fact easy in the general sense, but more consideration must be given. Some aspects of hacking, such as accessing wireless internet from another person's account, are possible to perform by anyone with only an average amount of computer skills. Meanwhile, hacking into a business' database and wreaking havoc on programs or to access highly secured information, is much more difficult to do. With this we must consider the nature of hacking, the definition of 'easy,' and the nature of programs which can be hacked. Furthermore we can consider prevention and the effectiveness of this.
Personally, I feel that computer hacking is fairly easy to do, but it takes an unusual amount of computer skills to perform actions that will do any real damage. The most easy feat to accomplish is wireless hacking, which can be intercepted merely by changing program settings if the signal is not protected. Here we can consider ethics, while personally I do not feel that it is horribly unethical to intercept an existing signal if it will be used normally. The only issues involved here are the question of who should pay versus who should have the "privilege" of freeloading, and the actions performed with the signal. Hackers intercepting signals can perform illegal activities (child pornography, discussing terrorism, etc.) while the owner may be investigated as a result. In the case of protection software securing a signal, hacking this I feel is more unethical due to the method of access. Granted, many free tools exist to perform this feat are available online, however the use of them gains access to a signal which a person is clearly not wanting to be used. Considering business hacking, I find this to be difficult and unethical, while there are many ways it can be prevented. Prevention is the reason why hacking business mainframes is so difficult, as much effort has already been put into it. Thus, hacking into businesses takes not only a vast knowledge of computer skills, but a further knowledge of business itself and access to hacking devices. Naturally, tools to hack business computers and software are not allowed on the commercial market while hacking is not taught as part of computer degrees' curricula. Overall, doing any serious damage to computers is in fact difficult, and only minor crimes of mischievous actions are generally easy to do.
Concerning prevention, there are many approaches. First off, however, the ethics with action and prevention should not be considered the same, and through this distinction we can begin to more effectively consider a viable solution; considering computer hacking ethics to be the same as ethical problems stands in the way of a solution (Harvey, 2009). Again we can divide this into two categories: minor and major crime preventions. The problem of mischief (such as file deletion, unauthorized access on personal computers, etc) and wireless interception (the minor crimes) can be addressed in a number of ways. Security software is the most obvious and direct form of prevention, as it takes a more skilled hacker to bypass such software. Physical security is employed in some locations (such as libraries, schools, etc.) to monitor the activities of users to ensure no harmful actions are taken. Meanwhile, serious hackers require a stronger dose of the same preventative measure. Highly sophisticated and complex programs are employed to prevent hackers from obtaining sensitive business information. As financial information, performance data, and customer information are all crucial to a company (in that they must remain confidential,) substantial portions of company revenue are spent on both software and physical kinds of security.
Hacking and prevention alike can take on many forms. Computer hacking is a serious offense, and luckily the efforts that have taken place to prevent such crimes have made it difficult for severe and damaging forms of hacking to be performed by the average person. Hacking is not generally easy, except in the cases of wireless intercept and minor forms of mischief. These can even be prevented easily, and even free of cost in many cases thanks to the modern day presence of "freeware" (free software) which can be found and downloaded over the internet. On the other hand, and strangely, wireless cracking software also continues to evolve while being available online free of charge. Ultimately, it is likely that the hacking security software will continue to largely dominate the presence and functionality of hacking software. This is due to the efforts and investments which continue to take place to prevent crime and protect business, and this will always overpower the funding and efforts of hackers (unless the world one day contains an equal amount of criminals in comparison to law-abiding citizens.) Regardless, computer hacking should be a topic for discussion whenever computers are discussed so that users can appropriately protect themselves. The knowledge of vulnerabilities and the preventative options available serve as another form of protection, while the continued development and awareness may further discourage hackers from committing crimes. References:
Harvey, B. (2009). Computer Hacking and Ethics. University of California. Retrieved October 18th, 2009 from eecs.berkeley.edu/~bh/hackers.html.
Stone, D. (1999). Computer Hacking. University Laboratory High School. Retrieved October 18th, 2009 from ed.uiuc.edu/wp/crime/hacking.htm.