Hackers in the Media

I was looking at the Prezi site today (and you should too, if you give presentations) and I found this:  Hackers in the Media. The creator is Molly Sauter of the Center for Civic Media at MIT. You should watch it for two reasons: 1) it does a fantastic job of examining how the media looks at hackers, and 2) it is a great example of how one can use Prezi. If you are not familiar with Prezi, the right-pointing triangle is a “next button” and the left-pointing one is a back button. Click the image to enlarge. I recommend clicking on “More” in the lower right of the Prezi and selecting full screen — it is a much better visual experience.

Twenty-five or so years ago, “hacker” was a compliment. It is getting that way again with sites like lifehacker and hackaday. There is even an “unconference” called Brainhack. I remember when I was just out of university and a faculty member said I was a great hacker — it was high praise, indeed! I’m glad the term is returning to its origins, if only slowly.

We do need to look at who these “bad actors” are and what their motivations might be. There are those try to break into systems or networks for the challenge or for the education. Sadly, some have been rewarded with jobs.

There are those who want some kind of revenge — it could be for being fired, for perceived mistreatment as a customer or for political gain. Their motivation is high and they may or may not have significant financial resources. A virus or worm infecting a company’s computers can cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to eradicate, and if data are removed or corrupted, the costs could skyrocket. That is costly cybervandalism.

There are other types of attackers, of course. We have read about one country using viruses and such to attack other countries. FBI warnings about cyberattack threats from terrorists abound in the US. There is also the possibility of corporate espionage as a motivation. Also, consider this: if company A wanted to buy company B for one hundred million dollars and it could spend even a million dollars on a cybrerattack to get the cost down to ninety million, that 900% ROI would be a good (but illegal and immoral!) deal.

One point is clear: breaking into computers is illegal unless you are hired to do so as part of an approved security assessment, or certain military or law-enforcement situations. Don’t do it. We discuss some hacker tools and techniques in our Introduction to System and Network Security course, not so participants can go home and attack computers, but so they can see some of what the bad guys really do.

John McDermott

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