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Burglary makes me angry. What gives anyone the right to invade another person’s privacy in this way – or in any way for that matter? Knowing that someone has taken it upon themselves to go through my things and help themselves to whatever they want is abhorrent to me.

Jill Walker writes about her office being burgled:

Unwelcome visitors who steal from usWhen I got to my office this morning a window was slightly open, stuff on the shelf by the window had been knocked down, there were muddy footprints on the floor between the window and the desk and the external monitor I use with my laptop was gone. The iMac was still there, weirdly enough. Nothing else was gone either – really there’s nothing else of monetary value in the room. The books are valuable to me, obviously, but hardly to thieves.

Turning on the iMac I feel worried. How much could they have accessed if they’d taken it? How many websites would my browser remember my username to? I set my computers so you have to type in a password to access many things (email, remembered passwords etc) but the information is in there if you can get past the password.

Jill raises a valid point regarding passwords we set-up to be automatically remembered by our computers. If a thief was able to get through the ‘front door’ they could create endless havoc for the individual computer owner and anyone else involved in their connected world. A picture flashed in front of me of the little book in which I record all my passwords – imagine if this was stolen or if I lost it. I have so many passwords and I find it impossible to remember them all without recording them somewhere.

All of this reminded me of my own recent experience of being ‘burgled’. I had no clues to alert me as to what I was about to stumble upon.
I innocently clicked on to my blog to log in and write a post. Imagine my shock when the page loaded and nothing was there. I was starring at a blank screen and I was horrified. Well, that is not quite true – there was something on the screen but not anything I had been involved in creating. My online space had been invaded. Staring back at me was a message from a Turkish hacker who calls himself Metlak.

I kept looking at the screen and the offensive words in front of me:

Hacked by metlak / Ownz here / F*ck papa [He or she didn’t have the * off course!]

My immediate thought was that I had entered the wrong URL so I tried again. To my utter horror I got the same message.

“Something’s wrong with my blog,” I said in a perplexed way to my husband who also happens to be my resident techno-guru.

“What’s wrong?” he replied.

“I don’t know,” I said. “There is nothing there except this weird message.”

Now you would have thought the word hacked written in the on-screen message would have given me a clue – but it didn’t.

So began a panic – especially when Lynsey realised our other blogs and web sites were also affected. Initially we thought it was only our sites that had been attacked but very quickly we discovered the problem was with the hosting service provider we were using so we weren’t alone.

All I could think about was the work I had lost – this was of no value to anyone else but to me, and in my view, it was priceless. I didn’t have any back-ups of anything I had written in my blog. Why? What was I thinking? All that work. All that time. Hours and hours. My words, my thoughts, reading, reflecting, my record of it all; it was all gone. I felt so violated and so angry. I realised I was experiencing the modern day equivalent of a robbery – an ‘e-burglary’. Someone uninvited had entered my space and stolen from me.

I kept staring at the screen as though a solution would magically appear.

It didn’t!

“Why would anyone do this?” I shouted out loud to no-one in particular.

The questions continued in my mind – who are hackers and what exactly is hacking? I needed information. So began my foray into this unfamiliar world.

The terms hacker and hack have controversial definitions.

Among some computer programmers in good standing with the technical community, the words hacker and hacking are used more often in the admiring or awed sense of a skilled software developer. People favoring this usage typically look with dismay on the usage of the term as a synonym for security cracking.

In the non-technical community, the word hacker most often describes someone who “hacks into” a system by evading or disabling security measures.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hacker_definition_controversy

I wanted to know more. I kept reading and clicking on links. Life learning is so exciting because you never know where it will lead you. Adveristy had turned, momentarily at least, into an intersting diversion.

In one sense it’s silly to argue about the true meaning of a word. A word means whatever people use it to mean

The concept of hacking entered the computer culture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1960s. Popular opinion at MIT posited that there are two kinds of students, tools and hackers. A tool is someone who attends class regularly, is always to be found in the library when no class is meeting, and gets straight As. A hacker is the opposite: someone who never goes to class, who in fact sleeps all day, and who spends the night pursuing recreational activities rather than studying. There was thought to be no middle ground. What does this have to do with computers? Originally, nothing. But there are standards for success as a hacker, just as grades form a standard for success as a tool. The true hacker can’t just sit around all night; he must pursue some hobby with dedication and flair.

A computer hacker, then, is someone who lives and breathes computers, who knows all about computers, who can get a computer to do anything. Equally important, though, is the hacker’s attitude. Computer programming must be a hobby, something done for fun, not out of a sense of duty or for the money. (It’s okay to make money, but that can’t be the reason for hacking.)

There are specialties within computer hacking. An algorithm hacker knows all about the best algorithm for any problem. A system hacker knows about designing and maintaining operating systems. And a password hacker knows how to find out someone else’s password.

Someone who sets out to crack the security of a system for financial gain is not a hacker at all. It’s not that a hacker can’t be a thief, but a hacker can’t be a professional thief. A hacker must be fundamentally an amateur, even though hackers can get paid for their expertise. A password hacker whose primary interest is in learning how the system works doesn’t therefore necessarily refrain from stealing information or services, but someone whose primary interest is in stealing isn’t a hacker. It’s a matter of emphasis.

Source: Brian Harvey on What is a Hacker?

Big names started to appear as I continued on this adventure into the world of hackers and hacking. This video explains the beginnings of early hacking and introduces some of the early pioneers in this field- Steve Wozniak (one of the two Steves who founded Apple Computers nonetheless – the other being Steve Jobs), John Draper (a.k.a. Captain Crunch), and Kevin Mitnick.

 Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in 1975 with a

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in 1975 with a “Blue Box”
Image source: http://www.woz.org/

In the mid 1970’s Wozniak decided to drop out of the University of California at Berkeley, where he was majoring in engineering, and start working for Hewlett-Packard. During this time, he started working with John Draper who was working on the “blue box”, an illegal pocket-size telephone attachment that would allow the user to make free long-distance calls. Draper recalls that “Woz’s first call was to the pope. He wanted to make a confession.”

Draper and Wozniak joined other phreakers, one who endeavors to beat the telephone system for purposes of obtaining free telephone services or eavesdropping on the conversations of others (more so the former purpose), who were reshaping circuit boards into the guts of the first personal computers. John Draper’s celebrated electronic scouting expeditions inspired these do-it-yourself technology junkies, eager to pull computing power out of it’s climate-controlled fortresses and put it into the hands of the people. During his time at HP Woz met a summer employee by the name of Steve Jobs and soon Jobs was helping Woz sell “blue boxes”. After the “blue box” industry had run it’s course Wozniak became associated with the Homebrew computing club and started work on the Apple I.

Source: Manish Srivastava on Steve Wozniak

My mind wandered back to Metlak, our Turkish hacker: what kind of hacker was he, was this something he did out of passion or was it intentionally malicious, would his work ultimately serve some kind of “greater good” purpose, did he do it for money, could I really call him a thief? I had lots of questions but I realised that having the answers wouldn’t have changed how I was feeling

I felt sick as I stared at the empty screen. I imagine it is that same feeling as you look around your ransacked room wondering what had been taken and what had been left behind. That horrible sensation that someone you don’t know has been through all your stuff. The bottom line is I felt used, and all that was taken in this instance were my written words.

So what did I learn?

A thief or a hacker can’t take away your memories – that is of course if you don’t consider illness or old age to be a thief or a type of hacker!

Our web sites were eventually restored. As a result of this experience we discovered that our web hosting service provider had a policy of only doing a full back-up of sites on a weekly basis. It appears we were responsible for our own daily back-ups. This was not a problem. The problem was we were not aware of this fact. We had a process in place to create back-ups of our web site materials but for some reason we had done nothing about ensuring we had systems in place for our blogs which ironically contained the biggest volume of content.

I suggest if you are considering purchasing web hosting that you make sure you investigate carefully their back-up policies before you commit to anything so you can develop your own data protection policy.

Another thought dawned on me: if I tried to re-write my postings that appeared to be lost to me they would be different even though I was writing about the same thing. It is as if I had to purchase a new item to replace the one that was stolen. The new item might serve a similar function but it would be different – its look, its feel, its functionality. Time will have passed and new developments will have occurred and the replacement item will reflect this change. The same is true of our thoughts and our words. Time will have passed. We will have thought of new things. We will have had new experiences. All of these will have altered our perceptions of our original thought or experience. Nothing is static.

I also discovered something new about the Wayback Machine – it doesn’t appear to archive databases and therefore I couldn’t search for my past blog postings. This is therefore not a viable back-up option even as a last straw. Consequently I strongly suggest you have a back-up policy for everything you do that is of any importance to you, especially if technology of any kind is involved.

Despite all the sayings and clichés that we are bombarded with daily, nothing is forever. Life has taught me this in so many different ways. What is forever is the ability to enjoy the moment. Treasure what you have now as it is happening. Focus on whatever is important for you. Our memories will help keep the moment alive but these memories will change and never truly reflect the actual experience. Say the things you need to say. Do the things you need to do. Live your life with passion and excitement based on the moment rather than what might be. This could be as good as it gets. Seize the moment with all your heart and soul.

Keep creating memories, keep sharing them, and be prepared that whatever you create may only be a temporary artefact – it will be around long enough to serve its purpose.

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