That Blue Square Thing

AQA Computer Science GCSE

This page is up to date for the new AQA 8525 syllabus for exams from 2022.

Ethics - Hacking

Hacking is the unauthorised access to computer systems and the data they contain. This is sometimes done deliberately to disrupt a system or to steal data and is illegal - it is covered by the Computer Misuse Act 1990. This is called "black-hat hackng".

Other hackers do so out of intellectual curiosity ("grey-hat hackers") or in order to help protect systems by showing they are vulnerable ("white-hat hackers"). Deliberate hacking to check a system is secure is a form of penetration testing (see this video from the BBCwiki link for a real-world example).

An example of grey/white hat hacking that happened in 2020/21 was the discovery of hacking and spyware that had gone on in Downing Street - effecting the Prime Minister's office. The Citizen Lab, a Canadian group which tracks electronis surveillance, told the UK government about the problems after they had discovered them. They don't usually do this, but considered this hack to be so major that they had to turn from grey hat to white hat.

The use of NSO software, probably by the United Arab Emirates government, to infect phones in Downing Street in the first place is, of course, an example of black hat hacking.

BBC article - April 2022 - The Week article - April 2022

Another group of hackers do so in order to highlight a social or political cause of some kind. Known as hacktavism, the aim of this is to target a government or company website in order to highlight a particular issue - perhaps a human rights or environmental issue.

Cracking is essentially the same thing as hacking. Some computer security experts ("white-hat hackers") think that their work would be better termed cracking in order to distinguish their activities from criminal hackers.

PDF iconHacking Answer Structure

Research Links

It's useful to read more about hacking examples. There is more on this in the Unit 6 - Security section.

In terms of vulnerabilities to cyber-attack, the video at Huawei's 'shoddy' work prompts talk of a Westminster banwiki link (BBC, 8 April 2019) is well worth a look.

The ways in which hacking can be used in postive ways include:

But surveillance is a tricky thing to get right:

An example of a grey area is: Inside the printer-hacking army spreading PewDiePie propagandawiki link - Wired

The 2017 NHS ransomware attack

This is an interesting example which has a number of levels in it. So I thought a new section was needed.

The "hacker" who helped stop the attack, Marcus Hutchins, demonstrates why the question of "hacking" is less straightforward:

There are some really interesting videos about ransomware in general on the BBC site. Worth a look.