Computer Crime Research Center

How To Become A Hacker

Date: August 04, 2004
Source: The personal domain of Eric S. Raymond.
By: Eric Steven Raymond

... and skill you basically have to teach yourself. You'll find that while real hackers want to help you, they won't respect you if you beg to be spoon-fed everything they know.

Learn a few things first. Show that you're trying, that you're capable of learning on your own. Then go to the hackers you meet with specific questions.

If you do email a hacker asking for advice, here are two things to know up front. First, we've found that people who are lazy or careless in their writing are usually too lazy and careless in their thinking to make good hackers --- so take care to spell correctly, and use good grammar and punctuation, otherwise you'll probably be ignored. Secondly, don't dare ask for a reply to an ISP account that's different from the account you're sending from; we find people who do that are usually thieves using stolen accounts, and we have no interest in rewarding or assisting thievery.

Q:

How can I get started, then?

A:

The best way for you to get started would probably be to go to a LUG (Linux user group) meeting. You can find such groups on the LDP General Linux Information Page; there is probably one near you, possibly associated with a college or university. LUG members will probably give you a Linux if you ask, and will certainly help you install one and get started.

Q:

When do you have to start? Is it too late for me to learn?

A:

Any age at which you are motivated to start is a good age. Most people seem to get interested between ages 15 and 20, but I know of exceptions in both directions.

Q:

How long will it take me to learn to hack?

A:

That depends on how talented you are and how hard you work at it. Most people can acquire a respectable skill set in eighteen months to two years, if they concentrate. don't think it ends there, though; if you are a real hacker, you will spend the rest of your life learning and perfecting your craft.

Q:

Are Visual Basic or C# good languages to start with?

A:

If you're asking this question, it almost certainly means you're thinking about trying to hack under Microsoft Windows. This is a bad idea in itself. When I compared trying to learn to hack under Windows to trying to learn to dance while wearing a body cast, I wasn't kidding. don't go there. It's ugly, and it never stops being ugly.

There are specific problems with Visual Basic and C#; mainly that they're not portable. Though there are prototype open-source implementations of these languages, the applicable ECMA standards don't cover more than a small set of their programming interfaces. On Windows most of their library support is proprietary to a single vendor (Microsoft); if you aren't extremely careful about which features you use --- more careful than any newbie is really capable of being --- you'll end up locked into only those platforms Microsoft chooses to support. If you're starting on a Unix, much better languages with better libraries are available.

Visual Basic is especially awful. Like other Basics it's a poorly-designed language that will teach you bad programming habits. No, don't ask me to describe them in detail; that explanation would fill a book. Learn a well-designed language instead.

One of those bad habits is becoming dependent on a single vendor's libraries, widgets, and development tools. In general, any language that isn't fully supported under at least Linux or one of the BSDs, and/or at least three different vendors' operating systems, is a poor one to learn to hack in.

Q:

Would you help me to crack a system, or teach me how to crack?

A:

No. Anyone who can still ask such a question after reading this FAQ is too stupid to be educable even if I had the time for tutoring. Any emailed requests of this kind that I get will be ignored or answered with extreme rudeness.

Q:

How can I get the password for someone else's account?

A:

This is cracking. Go away, idiot.

Q:

How can I break into/read/monitor someone else's email?

A:

This is cracking. Get lost, moron.

Q:

How can I steal channel op privileges on IRC?

A:

This is cracking. Begone, cretin.

Q:

I've been cracked. Will you help me fend off further attacks?

A:

No. Every time I've been asked this question so far, it's been from some poor sap running Microsoft Windows. It is not possible to effectively secure Windows systems against crack attacks; the code and architecture simply have too many flaws, which makes securing Windows like trying to bail out a boat with a sieve. The only reliable prevention starts with switching to Linux or some other operating system that is designed to at least be capable of security.

Q:

I'm having problems with my Windows software. Will you help me?

A:

Yes. Go to a DOS prompt and type "format c:". Any problems you are experiencing will cease within a few minutes.

Q:

Where can I find some real hackers to talk with?

A:

The best way is to find a Unix or Linux user's group local to you and go to their meetings (you can find links to several lists of user groups on the LDP site at ibiblio).

(I used to say here that you wouldn't find any real hackers on IRC, but I'm given to understand this is changing. Apparently some real hacker communities, attached to things like GIMP and Perl, have IRC channels now.)

Q:

Can you recommend useful books about hacking-related subjects?

A:

I maintain a Linux Reading List HOWTO that you may find helpful. The Loginataka may also be interesting.

For an introduction to Python, see the introductory materials on the Python site.

Q:

Do I need to be good at math to become a hacker?

A:

No. While you do need to be able to think logically and follow chains of exact reasoning, hacking uses very little formal mathematics or arithmetic.

In particular, you won't need trigonometry, calculus or analysis (we leave that stuff to the electrical engineers :-)). Some grounding in finite mathematics (including Boolean algebra, finite-set theory, combinatorics, and graph theory) can be helpful.

Q:

What language should I learn first?

A:

XHTML (the latest dialect of HTML) if you don't already know it. There are...


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