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Engineer vs. Hacker Quandary

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Frank Eory
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CEO
Re: It's in the discipline
Frank Eory   7/29/2013 4:45:35 PM
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Well said Bert. I don't really understand all the fuss, regardless of which definition of "hacker" is meant. Engineers sometimes fly by the seat of their pants and "hack" quick and dirty solutions to problems, and certainly some engineers are criminals -- or could be if they wanted to be. Ironically, it wasn't that long ago that EE Times had an article about infamous engineer-criminals -- but those guys were violent types, not malicious intruders of networks.

I also like your point about how engineers have always had requirements to make their designs foolproof, temparture-proof, etc. Actually, "proof" is too strong a word -- "resistant" is more accurate. In any case, if your next design happens to included network connectivity, you simply add hacker-resistant to that list.

Tom Murphy
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Re: It's in the discipline
Tom Murphy   7/29/2013 5:13:57 PM
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I totally agree with Bert and Frank on this. The term "hacker" was hijacked by the media some time ago and redefined as someone with malicious intent. But as far as I'm concerned, it's just a slang term for "hacking" code in the same way that "hacks" is sometimes used to (mostly as an insult) to define journalists or marketers who'd do anything for a buck.  

In fact, there's a large national meetup group called "hacks and hackers" that includes engineers and journalists who are looking to apply innovative technology to advance journalism. In that context, neither side draws offense at the term, and the group's intent is absolutely positive.

Bert22306
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CEO
Re: It's in the discipline
Bert22306   7/29/2013 5:23:11 PM
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"Because engineers and attackers are no different in terms of their ability to think analytically, are they having no problems in playing interchaneable roles?"



The way I would put it is simply that network security is a discipline that becomes increasingly important as more things are interconnected. But there's nothing new or different in this. Engineering has always had to deal with innovation. That's what it's all about. When I went to school, Ethernet was just being born and Internet Protocols did not exist yet. Now packet-switched networks and internetworking are a major discipline.

Cybersecurity is a relatively new field just like digital electronics and solid state electronics were new a few decades ago. With cybersecurity, the problem is not that engineers can't think that way. The problem is that it's a constant battle. Then again, what's new about that? Isn't this always the case? E.g., with faster and faster chips, aren't we similarly having to solve and re-solve problems of heat, of pulse rise times, of latency in interconnects? With cybersecurity, you're similarly having to re-solve problems, as new vulnerabilities emerge.

slomobile
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Rookie
Same
slomobile   7/31/2013 6:45:53 PM
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When they are good, an engineer and hacker are exactly the same thing.  If differences exist between what a person does and either definition:

then the hacker has not yet reached his potential

or the engineer is having his potential limited by management.

The problem with the specific example given is not that a fundamental difference exists between hackers and engineers; but that anyone that has spent a great deal of time and effort perfecting something will be blind to certain faults.  If you just spent a month making a system as secure as you are able, and then you are given a day to "think like a hacker" and try to find ways to circumvent your own security, you will fail to breach your own system because you have already fixed all the exploits you can think of.  The solution is to get a fresh set of eyes performing security tests, someone without a vested interest in the success of the device.  

Duane Benson
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"Discoverey" has a lot to do with it
Duane Benson   11/7/2013 3:32:50 PM
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Hacking (by my definition) is a lot about understanding how things work and how to make thinge operate in new, different or more efficient ways. Part of that understanding can come through taking things apart.

That leads to a question: Of all of the engineers that you know, how many took things apart when they were kids? Most that I know took apart radios, clocks, televsions, anything with a motor, etc.

If that doesn't show the hacker mindset, I don't know what does.

junko.yoshida
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Blogger
Re: "Discoverey" has a lot to do with it
junko.yoshida   11/7/2013 3:35:10 PM
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Indeed. That's a great point. Most of our readers confessed how they grew up tearing things apart. So, in that sense, "hacking" could be described as the genesis of engineering. 

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