When people think of hackers, they often imagine 1337 h4x0rz who sit in their dark room, listening to techno, breaking into corporate mainframes. What they really do is much less glamorous; they find an inconsistency in the way a program works, and exploit it. For instance, suppose a program expected 128 characters of text. What if it didn’t check how much you inputted and then you gave it 1024 characters instead? Those extra characters are written to memory – but who knows where in memory? Properly done, that kind of attack can allow you to run executable code. That’s called a buffer overflow exploit.
It shouldn’t be surprising that the brain has inconsistencies, too. After all, it is optimal at the tasks it was designed for – and usually only ‘good enough’ at everything else. There’s a whole bunch of people interested in figuring out how to optimize these ‘good enough’ tasks so they can learn, write, work better.
But everyone’s aware of a certain kind of brain hack – the optical illusion. Optical illusions use the idiosyncracies of the visual system to screw with what you see. For other, much cooler and less common ways of hacking yourself, there’s an informative little graphic from the Boston Globe. [Via].