During Shmoocon 2018, I decided I wanted to find out what inspires people about hacking. What excites them about this field we reside in, what motivates them, what drives them? So after a long night of shitposting Guy Fieri jokes, I decided I would run a giveaway. I’d give away 3 No Starch Press gift certificates and all you had to do to enter was send me 500–750 words about what inspires you in regards to hacking.
The first thing I learned — Hackers do not like to follow the rules. Out of 11 entries that I counted (and two that I dismissed because they were one sentence), only four of them passed the 500 word mark. That’s also the second thing I learned — Hackers don’t seem to enjoy writing; I suppose I could have learned that by checking the documentation of most tools, but nonetheless.
The themes that I noticed recurring across the results were: creativity, curiosity, newb-friendliness, and community.
In my original series of tweets, I said that I would be publishing the results so that others could enjoy them as well, and that’s what the remainder of this post will be. But first, I suppose I should announce the winners. The criteria for winning was “my three favorite” and these are in no particular order.
An honorable mention goes to 29A for his entry in green text format.
I am writing you because even though my story isn’t interesting, it’s a story that is mine and your tweet gave me an opportunity to share why I decided to pursue hacking as a career. I wish I could tell you that I started out young by reverse engineering electronics as a kid or that I submerged myself in computers after watching Hackers. My story is a bit dry but it contains a lesson I learned that has kept me motivated to continue to pursue hacking as a career despite only beginning my career at the age of 33.
I never considered myself smart or gifted. In school, I managed to do enough to get by. My only skill set was being able to talk to people and be charming enough to carry that conversation to distract them whether it be an angry customer calling to complain about something, my boss calling me in her office to reprimand me, my teacher for catching me cheating on an exam. Now that I am exposed to the world of info sec, I can see how this would translate to social engineering. I only used my skill set in customer service jobs and never tried to explore what else I could do. I was dead set on this as my professional career.
I decided to go back to school because my family was starting to grow and thought this would be a good time to take control of my future. It wasn’t until I attended an open house at a university that changed the direction that I wanted to pursue. The presenter showed a YouTube video of a red team that wanted to show the owner of a company how easy it was to infiltrate his company, both physically and over the wire. My eyes were glued for the whole video and I could feel myself get excited the more that I watched. They seemed to cover everything from social engineering to access the building posed as IT guys to physically breaking into the building after hours, to exploiting the network. I couldn’t believe these guys got paid to do the stuff they were doing. This motivation led me to researching everything I could about infosec. The more I read, the more I wanted to read more and slowly found myself not glued to the TV or playing video games. My nose was constantly stuck in a book. The bad part about being new and anxious to jump into the infosec industry is being able to focus on one thing. I want to learn so much but felt my age limited me especially since a lot of hackers started when they were young.
Here I am at 33, with zero infosec work experience, and a whole lot of books but I can tell you that I am having fun. The one thing I have learned though is to not limit myself to a certain standard. If that was the case, then I was better off in my routine of customer service work, staring at the clock and counting each second, surrounded by neutral paint walls and those horrible motivational business posters. Yeah I am 33, and I may not be the smartest, but as long as I have the motivation to learn as much as I can, I know I’ll be satisfied because I am doing something I love. Frankly, that’s what it’s all about isn’t it? Getting to a point in your life where you can do what you love, day in and day out. That feeling of satisfaction at the end of the day knowing the work you did meant something or contributed to something meaningful. And not waking up miserable because you have to go to the stare at a clock surrounded by neutral painted walls and lame motivational posters. That is what inspires me the most about hacking.
I’m not a professional hacker. I want to be, and I’m trying to get there. I’ve always been interested in Infosec, but I haven’t always pursued it. A few months ago, I decided to make a change. So I shed my old online “life”. The Facebook, the twitter, the whatever else was keeping me from doing what I love and dove headfirst into infosec. I spend every free moment I have, playing (learning) about hacking. Anyway, I thought I would feel alone dumping facebook and what not to focus on hacking/infosec. I did allow myself to create a twitter as it seemed that’s where infosec lived and networked in terms of social media. Within a couple days, I was accepted into a hacker discord known as “The Many Hats club”. They were just forming so it felt great being accepted into a community that was just forming as I was changing my life to be more focused on hacking. I later joined another newer discord called “PentestSec” which was more focused on the penetration testing aspect of infosec. I love both communities for different reasons. I also really enjoy being so close to the pros and experts who do this every day. I don’t mean to make this entire thing about me because it’s not. It’s about hacking. But I hacked my life, and it was pretty simple and one of the better things I’ve ever done. I can only imagine what it will be like when I finally get a job in security, let alone as a penetration tester.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, hacking is everything to me. In the span of a few months, I’ve met (in the online sense, and hopefully soon in the local sense) some amazing and brilliant people who go out of their way to help a n00b. To me, it is one of the most inspiring aspects of hacking. I guess I’m not really an expert in other fields, but it seems to me with all of the conferences and online communities hackers have, we have it pretty damn good. Not to mention, they get to hack things, they get to break things. They get to solve puzzles all the time and get paid to do it. Right now I’m working my way through HackTheBox. All I can say about it is, I love feeling like a packet sniffing detective whenever working on a box. Sometimes the clues are so small they’re easy to miss, but every time I log into a box I put my metaphorical Sherlock Holmes hat on and try to solve the puzzle. It is better than any video game I’ve ever played, more entertaining than any TV show I’ve ever watched.
Another interesting development, infosec gets more interesting and fun the more you learn. I consider myself to be a shy, introvert. However, even just learning how hackers use social engineering has made come out of my shell (alright, not entirely but I’m still new to all of this). To sum it up, I’d say infosec, in general, is inspiring. It makes me a better person, it keeps me engaged, it’s always interesting and always changing. It is everything I want to be. I’m glad to be a part of the community even if I can’t contribute much yet. I hope that changes soon. If anyone ends up reading this besides @0xdade, thank you for helping me hack my life.
Hack The Planet,
For the longest time I never even associated with the word “hacker”, it was somewhat of an accidental discovery for me. There are times recently people have asked me, “how would you define yourself?” Truth-be-told, I tell them I am an artist. Ever since I can remember, art has dominated my life. As a kid, I would follow these fascinating roads of artistic discovery. Sometimes it would be sketching, then painting, sculpting, airbrushing… I just wanted to create, and any new ways I could find to do that were illuminating. About the time I hit high school, I had this intense discovery in music. This became my complete passion. If anyone asked, I was so sure this was my whole future. To clarify, I never stopped liking these other mediums, but I was obsessed. There was this sort of otherworldly connection I felt but could never explain. So I did the whole music thing for a number of years, but life being what it was I eventually had hard financial obligations to handle. Sadly, music wasn’t the answer there. We always had computers in the house, so it just sort of felt easy to get a job in IT. A lot of the day-to-day things were boring as hell, but I managed to put in quite a bit of spare time into tearing apart technology and crafting something else with it. At some point I realized, technology is very much like a canvas just begging to be discovered and completed. It was a different medium, but it still felt like art. I could still craft and create and explore this fascinating world of discovery. Fast forward a bunch of years, I accept the label “hacker” because it makes sense to a lot of people, and language is all about communication anyway, right? I mean, when I tell people I think of myself as an artist the first thing they want to know is “what kind of art do you do?” The reality here is they want a single answer. “Oh yeah, I do everything. I just love to create. And by the way, that includes music, and computers, and…” then watch them glaze over, scoff, and ignore you. That’s not what people are supposed to say, so I must not have focus or talent or whatever. But that’s not how I see the world. Perhaps there isn’t a great way to communicate any of it. I am probably not going to put in the effort in to figure it out; I don’t have enough fucks to give to that cause.
So I am a hacker because really I am an artist. I have this insatiable drive to explore and create. I’ve seen a lot of dark shit in my day, and this is just about the only thing that makes any sense to me.
> Be twelve
> Middle school awkward
> Get into the grades database
> Make your own class
> Students are your teachers
> Fail them all
> Shaky finger from principal
> My first felony
> Be fifteen
> First year school has a computer program
> Make a low res drawing app called CRAYON
> Chicks dig it
> My first free software release
> Be twenty-two
> White Hat
> Kept the world safe for democracy
> Published “How to Hide Porn at Work”
> Discovered Black Hat SEO
> Passed the shiv
> My first crew
> Be a hundred handles
> Be thirty-seven
> Own a European national ISP
> Own the nation’s largest web host
> Own the customers
> Own Active Directory, all the devices, all the communications, all the things. Mine.
> South African hacker makes a mistake
> I give notice and burn
> Everyone goes to jail.
> Everyone but me.
> Again. A dozen times again.
> Be thirty-nine
> Everyone goes to jail.
> Everyone but me.
> Again. A dozen times again.
> Fuck sabu.
> Be forty-two
> Yard Hunting markets
> Keychaining LE
> Be forty-five
> I keep secrets
> To speak them is criminal
> I write code
> To release it is criminal
> I have philez
> To share them is criminal
> I make things to break things
> To describe them is criminal
> Being a hacker inspires me to hack
> Being a hacker requires me to hack
Anonymous Hacker One
Failure. I love failure. There is no better feeling on the myriads of things that human can experience than success after numerous failed attempts. There is no better way to learn or turn off the switch that keeps us from attempting doing, hence achieving. Only then, the gate of opportunities magically unlocks, letting the young hacker enter a whole new world. The fruits everyone gets from hacking are as diverse as the community is. Between meeting awesome people from any kind of background or occupation at conferences or fab labs to discovering and having new angles on things we never questioned ourselves about, being a glider in real life has its own set of advantages.
For me? I guess I inherited from by computer scientist father’s stories. “So, you were punching holes in some sort of card for what again?” Hard time to understand being so little. Later, sitting on his lap between his arms, watching at the black screen: “What do you do dad?” It was not even hacking but plain regular work. Writing assembly procedures for some defunct architectures here or feeding the IBM mainframe with Fortran calculations overnight. But somehow, the frustration converted into interest. Seed has been planted. Later, I wrote my very first set of visual basic programs and got interested in being lazy with my computer. Why using my arm to push the CD tray button? I can just manipulate it from my keyboard. But that windows Millennium has other secrets for me, and people on some strange forums were willing to teach and help me find out, for free. Which got me into writing my first malware, deriving pleasure from thinking of what one would do or try to get rid of that new crew member on their own ship. I was mainly playing this game with friends on my machine. But then I got bored and moved on looking at what other people playing the same game would do. Which made me meet Ollydbg and SoftICE (%RIP). The other people turned out to be very talented in playing the game, more than what I expected. I think that was the kick-start for my appreciation to the community. Which became a lot stronger when I discovered miracles like Phrack or more recently POC||GTFO. There is certainly no right approach to be or become a hacker. These few words are just the beginning of my story, up to the point I knew I wanted to continue on that path that would not stop surprising me.
What inspires me to belong to the hacking community reside in the other fruit I have not talked about yet: curiosity. I like that one can ask “why?” until understanding, but also that one is very likely to ask oneself “why not?” and turn left while the vast majority would go right. To me, this last question is the source of every innovation brought to the world by the community. That’s the beauty of hacking. Happy hacking folks!
Anonymous Hacker Two
I grew up resourceful in a poor (in wealth) home. I would often watch and help my parents “hack” their way to a better life. We would break open old computers to sell their parts, research the best deals in the local stores, and repair what we could save. We exploited the system in order to survive. When I started university and left home, I thought my background would be useless. I love hacking because I can use the lessons I grew up with to understand and change systems. I appreciate the openness and unconventionality of the info-security community as well.
Anonymous Hacker Three
Stereotypes, the thought that we’ll ever so easily fit neatly into a box. A subcategory so nonchalantly defined by our peers. I wasn’t smarter than you nor lacked the ability to articulate and find the summation of “x” squared Mr. Thompson. I wasn’t picked on in school nor did I eat lunch alone reading the latest Oprah novel. I might have actually been the poster child for average. I hated reading, writing and math. I hated school, I hated rinse and repeat. These types of shale rock have great history. I get it Miss alberts, memorization and regurgitate. Yet there’s this thing that sparks my curiosity. I’m not fed your syllabus sheet on how it should be done or remembered. I uncovered the vail for the first time. I realized computers weren’t just dell or gateway. You could customize, alter and change a piece of machinery to your liking. It wasn’t found at the brick and mortar, not what I was creating. I liked this bit of difference. That I could be different then the rest, it’s inspiring.
I found something that wasn’t so talked about, that made my outer circle smaller. I now know more than most. The Truman show effect has ceased. computers have hidden features. There more than School computations, word docs and excel. It’s more then then a cold glass of water, it’s got hidden materials. More than what my eyes can see. It’s got matter, my curiosity continuous to inch forward.
I’m now in AP computer science. I don’t have the grades to be here. Yet I don’t stick out either, I’m different. I’m excited to see new found ways. Yet the teacher sends us vanilla sheet rock to strain my eyes. To begin a list of mathematical proofs and tests. A lovers quarrel presented by the school board on what my work should look like. How my comments should read, the sheep follow blindly.
I hope I’m diffident, today there’s already a couple billion of “us”. A million of them, a thousand of those, a hundred of that. A dozen of them’s, a few him’s or hers. Then there’s just hopefully, a glimpse of something different. A thought, that your life wasn’t truly encapsulated and engulfed by obstacles bounded by the laws of physics. A hope, a dream that the American education system didn’t shackle my creativity. That I’m growing too old, that I have no originality. That I’m not waking up faced with the lack of verbosity. I hope that I’m not like the rest. Im inspired to be different, to think outside the mathematical matrix, to create, to form to inspire. To prove to myself that there are no bounds. Hacking to me is the hope that I’m different. That your thoughts, your tool, your program. didn’t think of what I did.
Im inspired to change the status quo to be more than a sheep. Hacking is the land charted by few but mastered by none. This geocentric mass is growing and my feet can’t run fast enough, I’m inspired for what’s next.
Anonymous Hacker Four
This whole hacking thing really inspires me. I got into it because I want to fund my education and i did it through buy bounty platforms like hackerone and bugcrowd. These platforms really helped me to make significant contributions to improve their web application security. It all happened when I reported a bug in some website and they were like here is your gift card. I was really happy that they did it. I started more digging in and then at some I found some more serious vulnerabilities in more mobile applications and web applications. This hacking thing, it’s good and I think I want to do it for the rest of my life. Breaking mobile applications, for finding the logic of some developer who is sitting miles away from me and then breaking it. The good thing about this is they will appreciate it, they will talk to you about it. Try to understand the bug and maybe offer you something like cup of coffee or monetary reward. They might even offer you a internship. That’s how I got my internship.
Anonymous Hacker Five
Hacking versus cracking, hacking inspires me to a greater understanding of the world, both of people and things, to improve things for the betterment of everyone, and have a lot of fun along the way. Cracking implies breaking in, not to help others, but to damage things to take control in a hurtful way, to do damage, and give nothing in return.
When I hack I feel connected to a long chain of Heroes, going back to the Greeks that mastered fire and storytelling, the talked about building robots and right through to Tesla, and our dear friend pulling bugs out of vacuum tubes. When I hack I feel connected to everyone.
Anonymous Hacker Six
What inspires me the most about hacking regarding computer is a lot.
Let’s start with the community because I think this is one of the things that really inspires me.
I’m currently 14 years old and I can’t say enough how thankful and inspired I am by the community.
All started when I was 12 and 13 actually, back then when I was 12 I actually started with kali.
This was the skiddo route but I quickly grew out it.
I remember how I saw bash the first time, I really felt impressed and cool.
When I was 13, I had a 3ds and started to install cfw on it.
This was the point where my curiosity caught on, I was really impressed by how the people did it and shared it.
This is the point where I really appreciate it the community, I talked a lot with people.
We had chats and sometimes they taught me stuff.
It was really nice.
I was hanging around gbatemp at that time and a guy named Darkgabbz invited me to a discord server with a lot of other people.
I quickly made friends and we had a lot of fun together.
One of the person named Kingy helped me to install arch actually which was really nice.
Time passed and I learned more and more, I also met more people in hackerspaces and online on ircs, xmpp and tox.
Time passed and now I’m trying to reverse engineer the 3ds gallery application with radare2 for code execution.
I really am grateful for all the inspiration, I mean, one year ago I was the guy installing the cfw.
And now I am trying to help the community with homebrew userland code execution.
What also inspires me is the talks, and the curiosity.
And of course the act to reverse engineer something and push it to its limits or do unintended stuff with it.
I gotta say, hacking is way more if you dive into it, and I am really happy that my curiosity catched on, I met so many smart people :).
Anonymous Hacker Seven
I am currently a senior in a not-so-great college, with no job in sight and not many skills. In these 4 years, I have spent more time reading and exploring than sticking to a single field. I tried ML and AI, web dev, and regular app development. Simply because it was what everyone else was doing. Because it was the ‘in’ thing to do. I got no satisfaction, I tried, yes indeed I tried. But something pulled me towards the ‘pure’ CS subjects, like OS, assembly programming, architecture, networking etc. I thought I could become a systems programmer. It was only when I started watching Mr. Robot, that I realised that security was for me. It was the only field that was at the confluence of my interests, and the only field where you absolutely have to keep learning, else you wind up biting the dust. Learning and reading is something that I truly enjoy doing. Hacking things is equal to finding out why they tick and how they tick; I remember learning about TCP, and I was amazed how it worked so effortlessly, and how many loopholes there are to exploit. I just joined Twitter, and I must say, I’m so happy that the community is so helpful and accepting of n00bs like me. Where I am, it’s hard to get security internships, so getting experience is difficult. The words of advice that all of you give is a helping hand to a person like me, with minimal skills, low self esteem, a person searching for guidance.