Hacking's all a game to me

Uplink game lets you live the virtual life of a hacker without the real world consequences

I’ve just been offered work as a hacker. In the past week I got good money to wipe scientific data from a rival corporation’s database, create a fake university degree for a friend and find the backdoor password to a highly secure government server. And my employers pay very well. Perhaps you also want to give the hacker life a try? We can’t all be l33t, but there are plenty of jobs at all levels for the novice to the expert Neuromancer.

Before our friends at the FBI decide to pay a visit, I should say that all this hacking is just a game. No, really. It’s a surprisingly realistic title called Uplink that simulates hacking. Although it’s dressed in a Hollywood-style like the movies WarGames, Sneakers and Swordfish, a lot of techniques used are those employed by real hackers. Now if you ask me how I know this, I’ll have to plead the Fifth.

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Uplink looks at the old school of hacking, before everything was connected via the Internet. Security on most systems was rather simplistic, but tracing a call back to its source was a real danger for hackers. To compensate, hackers used to have to bounce connections through a series of blind relays where they would dial into one server controlling a phone bank, and then have it dial back out to another. To hack a computer in New York, they might bounce a connection through San Francisco, Hong Kong and Washington, making tracing extremely difficult. Of course this was all done using 56k modems, so it was no real treat, and phone lines could be notoriously corrupt, but the game doesn’t really take that into account. Realism there is sacrificed for fun, so bounce calls all you like.

In Uplink, you go to work for a fictional company that brings hackers and those with hacking needs together. They even provide you with a gateway that is always your first link to the world. If you get traced back to that gateway, all evidence of your work for them is destroyed, though you can still get caught in certain circumstances.

You find jobs on a blind bulletin-board system that are appropriate to your skill level. This isn’t about hacking into Paris Hilton’s cell phone: These are serious hacks. You’ll need to purchase the correct programs to aid in the hack. For example, a dictionary password cracker is fast, but won’t always get you in if people have followed proper password guidelines. Sometimes you have to rely on a brute force cracker, which almost always gets the job done, though slowly. For highly secure hacks where there is likely to be a follow-up investigation, you’ll want to purchase tools to let you edit log files to delete any trace that you were there. And all this is done while your adversary is trying to trace you. Eventually you will even need to upgrade your gateway with a better CPU or memory to handle more advanced hacking tools. It’s all in a day's work.

You can download a trial version of Uplink for Windows, Mac or Linux, or buy a copy of the game for about $10. It also recently moved to Steam, and can be downloaded for the PC there.

If you get caught playing at work, tell them you’re doing research to keep your network safe, or better yet, that you’re an elite hacker who would just hate to ruin your boss’s credit rating over a misunderstanding.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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Reader Comments

Sun, Apr 3, 2011

Dr Bob isn't quite right. Hackers come in two primary varieties black hats (the bad guys he calls crackers) and white hats (the good guys of system security or ethical hackers). A good way to view this is l0pht before and after respectively (l0pht being a popular hacking troupe from the day). Cracking, on the other hand, is a verb. You crack passwords or encryptions (using Crackerjack for instance). But the bottom line is that all of the above are types of hackers.

Fri, Jun 18, 2010

As Dr. Bob says, you're confusing terms although I think that battle was sadly lost 15-20 years ago due to poorly informed media. Also, 56k modems? Wow, you're a youngster if you think 56k modems were even an option. Try thinking in terms of baud ...

Fri, Jun 18, 2010 Leigh Grady Herndon, VA

Interesting article - plan to check out Uplink

Thu, Jun 17, 2010 Alan Reed DISA

This was a great article. I've actually told everyone in my department to check out Uplink. It's surprisingly accurate in terms of hacking. Even though it's more old-school, a lot of the same things still go on. And this was a fun story to read, and brought back a lot of anti-hacking memories. Why doesn't GCN run more stories like this one?

Wed, Jun 16, 2010 Dr Bob Hacker Texas

You are confusing the term 'Hacker' with that of 'Cracker', a criminal. Hackers are pros that have to deal daily with substandard hardware and software that does stuff like blue screens or catches on fire. Computer crackers are criminals that break into poorly designed and maintained systems that are sadly abundant on this planet because managers often hate the technical competent engineers that question their no-clue judgement.

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