Categories of Hacker

Landreth [1] describes five categories of crackers, each with a different motivation: the Novice, the Student, the Tourist, the Crasher, and the Thief.


Comparable to internet "newbies". These entry-level crackers (usually ages 12 to 14) live off discarded or unused accounts of former employees or older crackers. They often perceive hacking as fun and mischievious: to them it is mostly play. The novice crakcer gets bored quickly, logging off to play video games or do homework. Novice crackers often make mistakes and are easily drawn out of hiding by stern system operators or other programmers.


These crackers follow in the tradition of 1970's MIT students. They share a great passion for computers and computer programming. Their interest in unauthorized computer access is usually rather benign, and they often form social networks to crack and study systems. Students usually respect the programmers of the systems they crack, and feed off the intellectual challenge of learning about their targeted system. Students usually want to remain undetected in a system and if possible will leave no sign of their passing within the system. They try to find out as much information as possible about the systems they crack. Later in life, they often find employment as system operators.


Tourists are another type of mostly benign cracker. They often feel the need to test themselves. Strong mathematical probability skills and backgrounds may allow them to crack almost any system. When they do crack a system and find nothing that is immediately interesting, they tend to log off. (They don't obsess over systems like students do). This type of cracker may not respect systems as much as the student crackers. To tourists, systems are meant to be broken into, not studied--their involvement with a system ends after they break in. Tourists can be malignant when they pass information on how to crack a particular system on to crashers and thieves.


Crashers give all hackers a bad name. They seem to operate with little or no logical purpose other than stroking their egos and satisfying their need to boast by bringing systems to a crashing halt. They usually have one main goal: to make themselves known to their victims and peers. Crashers often adopt "tagging names". (ie the Crasher, Phiber Optik, or Dark Dante). The tag names allow everyone to know who was responsible for the damage they caused while simultaneously keeping their real identities a secret.


This cracker is a true criminal. To get access to systems, thieves may resort to blackmail or bribery to get the information needed to breakk into computer systems. Theives usually profit off their cracking activities. Theives are often involved with electronic espionage and sabotage. They are also the most professional of all crackers--they do real research before hitting a computer system rather than relying on the stumbling "trial and error" approaches of the other cracker types. Their targets are intentional, not accidental. Theives are also the rarest type of cracker and the hardest to apprehend (only an estimated 5 to 10 percent are ever caught, because they are so good at what they do and at covering their tracks).

[1] Landreth, William. 1989. Out of the Inner Circle: The True Story of a Computer Intruder Capable of Cracking the Nation's Most Secure Computer Systems, Microsoft Press, l989, 240 pp. ISBN 1-55615-223-x

Last updated 96/10/14
J.A.N Lee.