How To Hack: The Basics

HACKINGThe world of computer forensics is a fascinating one. Before writing Wings of Mayhem (releases 5/18/16) I took several courses on how to hack.

For those who don’t know, the main character in Wings of Mayhem, Shawnee Daniels, is a hacker turned computer forensic specialist who moonlights as a cat burglar. My usual process is to learn everything I can about my characters’ professions so I can slip into their skin. Many things never make it into the book.

For new followers of this blog, my mission has always been to share what I learn here. If I can save you research time in the future, then I consider it a win.

There are three types of hackers:

Black hats: people who use their skill for evil.

White hats: people who use their skill for good.

Gray hats: somewhere in between the two. Shawnee is a gray hat, but don’t judge her too harshly. She’s loyal and loving under all her snarkiness.

Computers 101

These days we all use what’s called Transmission Control Protocal/Internet Protocal or TCP/IP. TCP is how your computer or devise communicates. IP is how it connects to the internet.

I sense your eyes glassing over, but stay with me. If you use a computer on a regular basis, which I assume you do or you wouldn’t be here, by the end of this post you won’t ever look at them in the same way.

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Windowing is the process of one computer communicating with another. To be clear, when I say computer I’m referring to any electronic devise that connects to the Internet.

Information is broken down into “packets,” strings of 1s and 0s (called binary numbers) that make up everything we send. It’s with these strings of 1s and 0s that programmers write code. By manipulating or rewriting code is how hackers cause chaos. They also use skip kiddies, patches, and other “tricks,” but they all stem from writing code (using binary numbers). I’m sticking with the basics here so it doesn’t get too confusing.

How Windowing Works

Let’s say Computer 1 sends Computer 2 a Word.doc. Rather than sending the entire file, Computer 1 will send 1 packet, a string of 1s and 0s (binary numbers) that when combined with the other packets, make up the entire file. Computer 2 acknowledges receipt of that 1 packet. Once Computer 1 gets the acknowledgment it will send 2 packets, double the first communication. The cycle continues, with Computer 1 doubling the packets with each communication and Computer 2 acknowledging receipt of each packet. So if Computer 1 sends 10 packets, Computer 2 will respond by saying, “Received 10 packets.”

How To Hack: Understanding Windowing

But what happens if Computer 2 doesn’t confirm receipt? Let’s say Computer 1 sends 200 packets—mind you, Computer 1 is still only forwarding the Word.doc; there could be 1000s of packets, depending on the size of the file. Computer 2 notices a problem and sends a message that says, “Received 10 packets out of 200.”

Hearing this, Computer 1 will immediately start over, by sending 1 packet and waiting for acknowledgment that Computer 2 received it. When Computer 1 gets the green light, it’ll send 2 packets…just like before…each time doubling the payload.

This is especially important in today’s world with instant communication. When you type a private message on Facebook, or send a text on your iPhone, all this back-and-forth is happening behind the scenes.

Still with me?

IP Address

Your IP Address tells your devise the computer and network. I’m sure you’re familiar with an IP address. For home computers they look like this: 192.168.10.1. Each one of the four sections—called “octets”— are made up of 1s and 0s (binary numbers). Remember, your devise only recognizes 1s and 0s, so it cannot recognize the IP address as 192.168.10.1.

Okay. *rubs palms together* Roll up your sleeves. This is where everything becomes clear.

Octets

We know each IP Address has four Octets. 192 (1st octet).168 (2nd octet). 10 (3rd octet). 1 (fourth octet). Each Octet is made up of bits, strings of 1s and 0s (binary numbers). A value is assigned to each octet using decimal numbers. From left to right each decimal looks like this: 128 64 32 16 8 4 2 1. Notice anything about these numbers? If we look at them from right to left, we can see that each value doubles…exactly how a computer sends packets.

Binary numbers are assigned to each decimal number using 1 = on 0 = off

Remember our IP Address? 192.168.10.1

The first Octet = 192

Second Octet = 168

Third Octet = 10

How To Hack: Understanding Octets

The fourth Octet = 1

It would look like this: 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1

Each IP Address tells you the computer and network. If we added all the (top) decimals, we get 255. And this is where the Subnet comes in. A Subnet (short for “subnetwork”) is an identifiably separate part of an organization’s network. Typically, a Subnet represents all the computers (devises) at one location, in one building, or on the same Local Area Network (LAN). Having an organization’s network divided into subnets allows for multiple devices to connect to the Internet with a single shared network address.

Without subnets, an organization would have to have multiple connections to the Internet, one for each computer. The Subnet tells you what portion of the IP is computer and what is network. Subnets are broken down by class.

Class B Subnet: 255.255.0.0

It would look like this in binary code: 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1/1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1/0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 /0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Class A Subnet: 255.0.0.0

Binary code: 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1/0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0/0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0/0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Class C Subnet: 255.255.255.0

Binary code: 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1/1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1/1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1/0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

The last IP number in our address (a home network) is the Broadcast IP. The Broadcast IP sends information to each computer in the network. Using our IP Address: 192.168.10.1, our Broadcast IP is 1.

So how do hackers target an entire network? They take the IP address and Subnet and convert to binary code to find the Broadcast IP. Then they send packets to the Broadcast IP to infect the entire network.

Cool, right?

 

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About Sue Coletta

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is the bestselling, award-winning author of psychological thrillers and mysteries. Sue's short stories and flash fiction have appeared in OOTG Flash Fiction Offensive magazine and numerous anthologies, and her forensic articles have appeared in InSinC Quarterly. In 2017, Feedspot awarded her Murder Blog as one of the Top 50 Crime Blogs on the net. Sue's the communications manager for Forensic Science and the Serial Killer Project, and co-hosts the radio show "Partners in Crime" on Writestream Radio Network. As a way to help fellow crime writers, Sue created a team of crime experts (detectives, coroners, police captains, etc.) and founded #ACrimeChat on Twitter. She's also a proud member of the Kill Zone (see details in full bio -- menu bar).

24 Comments

  1. Wow! Interesting and fascinating. I’ve always been curious about that IP address and the meaning of the numbers. I like to research stuff also, but never ventured into this territory. Thanks for the informative post.

  2. So cool. You’ve explained this all so clearly, and made it easier for me to understand how a computer hacker’s mind works. I’m so impressed that you took several hacking classes in order to better understand your character. I’m not sure I would have been able to absorb the material the way you clearly were. I can’t wait to read the book!!
    Colette Sartor recently posted…Stumbling Toward OptimismMy Profile

    • Thank you, Colette. I *might* have a small addiction to research. Any chance I get to dig into another area, I take it. This was one of the harder fields to learn. The course took me a solid week at least, all day, every day.

  3. I’ve got a friend who actually understands all this stuff, about sending and receiving packets, addresses, etc. To me it’s all white man’s magic.

  4. I’ll just sit in the corner and use my finger on my lips to go, “bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb.”

  5. I admit I leave most of the computer stuff up to the rocket scientist. But I love learning 🙂

  6. While it saddened me that we are not transformed into Sue Coletta’s Secret Hacker Minions, the article is easily recognized as helpful and the prose is keeping it simple, too.

    One of my oldest fandoms has been Shadowrun, a world in the years 2053 to 2074, within which ‘Hackers’ became ‘Deckers’, using their cyberdecks by linking a kind of bluetooth needle into a brain implant. Thereby no longer staring unto screens, but using the brain’s inbuilt dream-machine to see the Matrix as a virtual world come alive.

    While just one example I am certain that ‘authentic details and skilled descriptions’ do help aspiring authors manifold indeed.

    Thanks for the time-efficient lesson!

  7. Thank you! I see that Shawnee and I will become very good friends!

  8. This is what I love about being a writer. Yesterday I can be a sleuth, today I can fall in love, tomorrow I can be a computer hacker. 😉

  9. Very interesting, Sue. I knew it somehow worked off series of 1’s & 0’s but this put it into better perspective, especially what the IP addresses mean. Sounds like Shawnee taught you a lot about numbers. Looking forward to seeing her in words 🙂
    Garry Rodgers recently posted…THE EXCRUCIATING DEATH OF MISTER RED PEPPER PASTE MANMy Profile

  10. Cool, indeed, Sue! And given today’s technology, even writers whose main characters aren’t hackers need to know some of this technology. Computers, the Internet, etc., are everywhere, and it’s a big part of the way police track crime. This is useful stuff.

    • I agree, Margot. The more technical stuff about hacking I didn’t feel comfortable sharing, but everyone should at least be familiar with computer basics.

  11. Some of this really sticks out in my head from a year or so ago when it seemed like I was having to do ping tests for packets almost weekly (awful long term computer woes). I’d completely forgotten about all of that until your post reminded me of how computers relate to each other. Very informative post, Sue!

    • Thanks, Mae. I studied programming in high school, but forgot most of it until I took hacking classes. Here’s another tip: never save passwords to sites. It’s the easiest thing to hack. During the classes I practiced breaking into my own accounts, and was shocked how fast I got the password to appear.

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