Hacking Rhetoric

Artist’s Statement

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I was assigned to hack Cayla and when I finally got around to it, it was immediately apparent to me what I should do. My gmail account was recently infiltrated, and while I didn’t suffer any lasting damage and nothing of value was taken/learned, emails were sent to everyone in my contacts. These emails were plugs for various probably infected websites, which is pretty terrible. I’m fairly certain that the spam filters caught most of these emails, but I still had to apologize to everyone who had an email sent to them just in case. It was a very annoying and scary experience, and I promptly changed all my passwords to very difficult and different things. I tried to do the same thing with Cayla’s account. After spending some time figuring out that her password was high school mascot related, I was able to figure out that her password was probably something related to Chaparrals. I tried many different versions of this word and was having no luck; none of the passwords were working. I then retried the first password I attempted and it was correct… Technology never ceases to frustrate me. I guessed the password right the first time and had to try twice before WordPress accepted my answer. Upon gaining access to Cayla’s blog account, I noticed something strange. I was very excited and paranoid. Despite the ease with which I gained access, I felt inordinately accomplished and energetic. Despite the tame nature of the hack and the fact that it was teacher-sanctioned, I was still subconsciously worried because I was trespassing and might be caught. Hacking, even in superficially easy scenarios, is a fun pasttime and I can see why people pursue it with such fervor. The reason that I hacked Cayla’s blog in the way I did was because I thought it was similar to my real life experience, and was obviously not her doing. In the same way, whoever hacked my gmail made no attempt to produce a realistic or believable spam message. I’ve noticed in our class that we often talk about hackers as wizards and creative geniuses, but at the same time we should acknowledge that there is a second level of online hackers. There are scores of idiots and phishers from foreign countries who don’t try hard and don’t do anything with tact or strategy. They prey upon people so ignorant that they don’t notice the very obvious attempts at theft and info stealing. And I’m not entirely convinced that it’s a bad business model. If your only targets are people who barely know how to defend themselves from predictable attacks, your actions are more likely to work. Smart people who receive obvious online threats ignore them and move on. Smart people who receive smart online threats will wise up eventually and will report the hackers and get them arrested or make their work publicly known and easily defendable. But the hackers who attack stupid people spend less time per attack, have a higher chance of success, and a lower chance of being punished for their actions. The hack that I did to Cayla was so innocuous that if it was acknowledged as a bona fide hacking attempt, no one would care anyways. Hiding in plain sight, as it were, might actually be the smartest thing to do if you;re an unskilled internet thief.

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