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Odd and interesting gift ideas for the hobbyist hacker in your life

From hobbyist hackers and programmers to professionals, they will love our picks for tech gifts for hackers this holiday season.
charlie-osborne
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer on
Show more (7 items)

While hackers are often associated with criminal acts, it's important to remember the difference between white hat and black hat activities. These days, with cyberattacks increasing in scope and complexity, we need professional, ethical hackers to help protect the day-to-day services we all use. And we especially need to encourage younger people who are curious about in this field.

If you're looking for holiday gifts that will appeal to someone interested in cybersecurity or programming, the hunt can be a challenge. We've rounded up our picks for the top gift options, including books for study or entertainment, stocking stuffers, high-tech kits, and more for your loved one to enjoy. 

Here are interesting, odd, and fun gift options for the hacker in your life throughout the 2022 holiday season.

Must read:

The best hacker gift ideas for the holidays

Below are 12 hacker gift ideas I found for the holiday season this year. 

HackRF
Hacker Warehouse
  • Price: $350
  • Features: Receives and transmits from 1MHz to 6GHz

One of our top picks for hacker-related gifts this holiday season is the HackRF One bundle. Available at Hacker Warehouse, this Software-Defined Radio kit can handle signals between 1MHz and 6GHz and is an excellent option for exploring radio frequency systems and communication protocols -- the backbone of modern-day devices. 

This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race
Barnes & Noble
  • Price: $24

This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends by Nicole Perlroth should be on the bookshelves of anyone interested in cybersecurity. 

Perlroth, a cybersecurity reporter, explores the role of the United States in the digital arms race and includes tales of zero-day exploitation, hacker-for-hire mercenaries, and even how the country's own specialists were duped into working against them.

GeeekPi Raspberry Pi 4 8GB Starter Kit
Amazon
  • Price: $275
  • Features: 1.5GHz quad-core CPU | 8GB RAM

While the range of potential cybersecurity career paths is vast and not every avenue requires a thorough knowledge of programming, a holiday gift option you could consider focuses on teaching people how to code in a fun way. 

The Raspberry Pi is a single-board, Linux-based computer. There are general-purpose pins and components for learning everything from programming skills to creating home automation controls. When it comes to security, users could explore network scanning, ad blocking, container creation, and more.

The Raspberry Pi 4 8GB starter kit on Amazon comes with a Raspberry Pi device, case, fan, power switch, heat sinks, and more.

expressvpn
ZDNET
  • Price: $8.32 - $12.95
  • Tech specs: IP masking | Avoid geolocation blocks | 

VPNs, or virtual private networks, play an integral role in cyber activities. Just ask any hacker. So while your recipient may or may not be subscribed to a membership, it doesn't hurt to cover a couple of months -- or years -- for them as a gift. 

ExpressVPN remains at the top of our best VPNs list and for good reason. It supports a generous number of platforms, including Windows, Linux, iOS, and Android, has over 160 server locations in 94 countries, and does not collect connection or activity logs. 

The Art of Invisibility
Amazon
  • Price: $13

Kevin Mitnick's The Art of Invisibility: The World's Most Famous Hacker Teaches You How to Be Safe in the Age of Big Brother and Big Data is a classic book that anyone interested in cybersecurity would appreciate. 

Mitnick, a convicted hacker once on the FBI's Most Wanted list turned acclaimed security consultant and Chief Hacking Officer of KnowBe4, explores modern surveillance methods and how we can limit the impact on our privacy and security.

HackerBoxes Monthly Subscription
HackerBox
  • Price: $44
  • Features: Monthly subscription

You could also check out HackerBoxes, a monthly subscription box full of interesting gadgets and tools for those interested in programming, DIY electronics, and hacking. Past boxes have included Capture the Flag projects, radio-over-internet kit, novelty items, and proximity detection gadgets. 

Shark Jack
Hak5
  • Price: $80
  • Features: Penetration software tools

An interesting gift for researchers and penetration testers, the Shark Jack is a portable tool for network reconnaissance and wired network auditing. The kit comes with both attack and arm switches. DuckyScript payloads can also be developed in bash and by using Linux tools. 

At the time of writing, the cabled version is in stock.

The Art of Attack: Attacker mindset for security professionals
Amazon
  • Price: $22

The Art of Attack: Attacker mindset for security professionals, authored by Maxie Reynolds, is an excellent read and would be a great gift to give over the holiday season. In order to defend against attacks, it helps to enter the mentality of an attacker and think like them. Offensive security professionals know this, and anyone interested in pen testing or defense can learn from experts already in the field. 

ALFA wireless extender
Amazon
  • Price: $64
  • Features: Monitor mode | 2.4GHz 300Mbps/5GHz 867Mbps

The ALFA wireless extender is a useful accessory for those learning about wireless networks and could be a useful addition to any emerging hacker's arsenal. 

Powered by USB and suitable for Linux and Windows machines, the extender can be used to enhance your range when using network sniffing tools, such as those on Kali Linux. Monitor mode, a key feature for monitoring network traffic, is supported.

Bash Bunny Mark II
Hak5
  • Price: $119
  • Features: Remote triggers Geofencing | MicroSD support

The Bash Bunny Mark II is an option from Hak5. The latest version, Mark II, is a payload deployer over USB and can go from "plug to pwn in 7 seconds" according to the company. Bash Bunny has been improved to be quicker and now supports wireless geofencing, microSDs, and text file payloads. 

The attack combo kit is currently sold out but you can pick up the Bash Bunny USB on the run-up to Christmas.

Wi-Fi Pineapple & AC Tactical
Hak5
  • Price: $199
  • Features: A recon dashboard | automated pentests

The Wi-Fi Pineapple, Mark VII, is a piece of kit designed for wireless security assessments and auditing. Among its features is a dashboard for active and passive monitoring, a rogue access point facility for conducting Man-in-The-Middle (MiTM) attacks, and report generation.

This device is available together with AC Tactical, containing 2.4 & 5GHz support via a Wi-Fi adapter, a carry case, keychain, and skins. You can also select add-ons including Kismet modules and extra antennas.  

comptia network+
CompTIA
  • Price: $358

If you're looking for a gift for someone interested in cybersecurity as a career but who is not sure where to begin, signing them up for a qualification is a great place to start. 

There are many entry-level courses (as well as free options) out there, but we recommend starting with CompTIA's A+ or Network+. Network+, in particular, might not seem like the right choice on the surface, but today's cybersecurity professionals must have a thorough understanding of networking fundamentals to understand defense. 

How did we choose these hacker gift ideas?

It can be a challenge to find specialist gifts -- whether the field you're interested in is cybersecurity or otherwise -- so we examined products that would appeal to the widest customer base available. Or, at the least, products that will keep the hackers in your life busy, learning, and out of mischief. 

However, not every gift has to have a hands-on educational purpose in mind, so we've also included interesting reads on the industry.

Is hacking illegal?

There is a misconception that all hacking is illegal. However, hacking is simply identifying weaknesses in a device -- whether it is a PC, smartphone, or another physical object -- and software, including apps, and attempting to exploit them.

This could include a computer network, old tech equipment, or a website's backend control system. 

Hacking, in itself, doesn't automatically mean unauthorized entry. There are companies out there that ask for ethical hackers to test their software for weaknesses and will reward them financially for their findings.

It is only when a hacker uses their skills for unauthorized and criminal purposes, theft, or destruction that it becomes illegal. This could include breaking into a network to deploy malware or stealing confidential information.

What types of ethical hackers are out there?

Ethical hackers are individuals who go into the cybersecurity field for 'white hat' purposes and to defend against cybercriminals. 

Job roles include penetration testers who try to find weaknesses in software and networks; bug bounty hunters who privately disclose vulnerabilities to companies; consultants, network defense experts, and more.

I want to learn about hacking but where do I start?

If you're interested in learning how to hack -- and stay within the realms of the law while you're doing so -- you can begin by checking out free resources including YouTube and Coursera. Alternatively, you can begin by earning a few certifications in the field.

Read on: The 6 best ethical hacking certifications: Hone your skills

Need more gift ideas?

Check out our ZDNet Recommends directory or Holiday Gifts hub for some more inspiration. 

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