First things first: I have absolutely no interest in learning how to crack systems for personal enrichment, hurting other people or doing anything remotely malicious.
I understand the basis of many exploits (XSS, SQL injection, use after free etc.), though I've never performed any myself. I even have some idea about how to guard web applications from common exploits (like the aforementioned XSS and SQL injection)
Reading this question about the Internet Explorer zero-day vulnerability from the Security SE piqued my curiosity and made me wonder: how did someone even find out about this exploit? What tools did they use? How did they know what to look for?
I'm wary about visiting hacker dens online for fear of getting my own system infected (the Defcon stories make me paranoid). So what's a good, safe place to start learning?