This isn't funny anymore...

Remember the Halcyon days, back in the pre-millennium era when Hackers were these caricatures of social misfits, always portrayed in movies as nerdy and  mad at the world, ready to fight (with key boards only) for the injustice genetics and upbringing foisted on them.   The worst you could expect from an old school hacker is that they might deface your website or wipe your hard drive clean.  Sure we raged at them and shook our fists.  But, in the same way you chase off kids that egg your house.  Annoying yes.  Criminal?  Debatable.    This obsolete archetype had its ultimate example in the most infamous hacker of the era, Kevin Mitnick.  Chased all through the 80s and 90s by authorities; he was alternatively caught, chastised and rereleased into the wild to do it again a few years later.  He was sent straight from central casting as a Hollywood hacker.   For a time, he was actually on the FBI’s Ten most wanted list even though he never made a dime off his exploits nor did he intend to.  It was just a lot of cyber poking around combined with the occasional prank or revenge hack.  

Fast forward to 2010.  Just today, authorizes swooped down on a massive International hacking ring, arresting dozens in the US, UK and Russia.   This massive criminal enterprise used the Zeus virus/trojan to pilfer online baking account credentials and then had cyber “mules” all over the country transfer the money into accounts they created just for this purpose and from thence on to their overseas masters.   Today’s hacker is much more likely to be a tattooed lifer in the Russian mob or a suburban mom strung out on meth looking some quick cash, than a guy that Mathew Broderick could play in a movie.  And this comes on the heels of the discovery of the Stuxnet virus that burrowed its way into Iranian Nuclear facilities control systems.  This sophisticated program was designed to cripple a countries key infrastructure.  Sure, it was the Iranians this time, uniformly hated by almost all, but it won’t take long for hackers to turn this technology on other western counties including the US. Imagine this tech in the hands of a techie Al Qaeda member.   The truth is that the hackers and malware technology of today have all the semblance to yesteryear’s as a Stealth Bomber to the Bi-planes of WWI.  Today’s evil tech is not designed to call attention to itself like the bloated egos of past worms, but rather quietly and quickly steal your identity, rob you blind and leave without a trace.  And do it by the millions. It really makes you nostalgic for a story about a teenage hacker who was just in it for the fun…

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on Oct 4, 2010
"Sure, it was the Iranians this time, uniformly hated by almost all..." Do you feel that's an appropriate generalization?

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Tony Howlett

Tony Howlett is CTO of Network Security Services, a network consulting firm. He is a CISSP and a GSNA.
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