What 3 Years of Learning To Hack Taught Me

I truly love the hacking community. Yet, what I still don't understand is why we haven't gotten any closer at helping people to learn to hack.

I have for the last 2-3 years been learning to hack, and believe I have tried almost every resource out there. And I have truly been trying to wrap my head around learning it in the best ways possible, and I simply wanted to share my experience here.

Disclaimer: I don't think this will the path to take for everyone as it's not as smooth and elegant, as some people would like to portray it to be. It's rather crooked and hard. But if you truly want to be a hacker, those things will not make you shy away – quite the opposite, you'll embrace them.

Hacking is Ubiquitous

The first thing to realize is that "hacker" is a confusing word, as it's used in many ways to imply different things. However, at large, I believe we can agree on two definitions:

  • a) “an expert at programming and solving problems with a computer”, we'll call them computer hackers
  • b) “a person who illegally gains access to and sometimes tampers with information in a computer system”, we'll call them security hackers

Now, in 90% of the cases, when people talk about hackers, they talk about definition b). The media is certainly always using definition b), because it evokes fear and the unknown. Nobody wants to read about a nerd in front of his computer. They want to read about the guy in the black hoodie, who can get access to your computer in one minute and listen in while you are skyping with auntie Jane.

What I found, though, is that definition b) will not help you to become a hacker. It will make you focus on the wrong things.

I will repeat it: Following the definition b), what we called "security hacker", won't get you anywhere. At least not in the beginning.

Yet, everyone, including me, tries to learn hacking through it. The result of this is an abundance of tutorials such as:

  1. Android Hacking with the USB Rubber Ducky
  2. Cracking WiFi Passwords with Aircrack-ng on Kali Linux
  3. Yet Another Kali Linux Tutorial...

Now, I don't mean to disrespect anyone's work, I simply believe that reading these articles will not turn you into a hacker, neither will practicing the examples within them.

What Will Turn You Into a Hacker?

Let's evade this question for one second, so that we can answer it better. Let's look at another definition:

A computer hacker is any skilled computer expert that uses their technical knowledge to overcome a problem. While "hacker" can refer to any skilled computer programmer, the term has become associated in popular culture with a "security hacker", someone who, with their technical knowledge, uses bugs or exploits to break into computer systems.
Source: Wikipedia

If we translate the definition by Wikipedia into two simple equations, the following might come out:

Computer hacker = skilled computer expert + uses technical knowledge to overcome a problem
Security hacker = computer hacker + uses technical knowledge to exploit systems

If we reduce this down further we get the following:

Computer hacker = skilled computer expert + uses technical knowledge to overcome a problem
Security hacker = skilled computer expert + uses technical knowledge to exploit systems

# I've omitted 'use of technical knowledge to overcome a problem' as the difference between the two only stems from the fact how they use their knowledge.

Now that we have defined this, we have an easier time answering our original question:

What will turn you into a hacker? The answer is technical knowledge.

The Key to Becoming a Hacker is Technical Knowledge

If you follow the above equations to the dot, then what you really need is technical knowledge to become a hacker.

Technical Knowledge = Theoretical knowledge + practice.

So that's the simple answer for anyone looking to learn to hack.

Learn about the inner workings of computers, displays, CPUs, networks – whatever you find exciting. Explore it as well as you can. Focus on something practical first, once you hit a wall, follow up on the theoretical side. Then rinse & repeat.

Now, of course, we can break this down further, and I can, if you are interested, but I'm afraid the post might become too long. Anyway, breaking hacking down like this, has helped me tremendously to stay on the right path and not sway from it, even if it means years of continuous learning.

Let me know if this is helpful or not.