Hackers, Crackers, Tramps and Thieves
Recently, we have saw a “hacker group,”, loosely known as Anonymous wage a denial of service attack (DDoS) against various companies that withdrew services to WikiLeaks. This was done in a supposed noble defense of WikiLeaks. Now it appears the same group has taken credit for attacks against Sony. Why attack Sony? Because Anonymous believes individuals should be able to modify PlaySation3 consoles and Sony’s says they no they shouldn’t be and are fighting the copyright infringement with legal action. It is sort of like I disagree with you and we end up in court and you then throw a rock through my window (funny…. I didn’t mean to bring Microsoft into the mix…LOL). Well apparently, more then a rock got thrown through Sony’s “window.” It now appears that 2.2 million credits cards with CVV were stolen as well. Anonymous is now only claiming they broke the window, not that they stole anything. Who exactly are “hackers”?
Initially the term came to refer to individuals who pushed technology to its limits. Hacking was making technology (hardware/software) do more, more efficiently, etc. However, somewhere along the mix it began to be used as a term to describe individuals exploiting technology for illegal purposes. Latter the term crackers came to refer to hackers who did bad things, such as breaking into systems, causing damage, stealing data, etc. We also had the “color” system if you will, in part no doubt due to the old adage in Western movies, good and bad guys wear different colored hats. Yep you guessed it you have White Hat hackers (good guys) and Black Hat Hackers (bad guys). Of course, you also then have the Grey Hat Hackers (good or bad, depending upon what they are doing). As an old John Wayne fan I never really paid much attention to what hat he was wearing but that is beside the point.
In my opinion, hackers have come to enjoy a unique position in our society. For instance, there is no such thing as a “white hat” embezzler, drug dealer, or bank robber. The closest think I can think of is maybe Robin Hood, where he was a criminal but his ends justified his means (steal from the rich and give to the poor). I suppose there was some romanticizing about train/bank robberies, Jessie James or even Bonnie and Clyde. But in the end we still consider them criminals when all is said and done. We just don’t have other offender groups being described by their head apparel. I also am amazed being a hacker is viewed by some as the best pathway to becoming an IT security expert. It is sort of like someone being a burglar or robber as a path to a career as security professional. I guess these folks think honest hard work and education just doesn’t look as good as I was a criminal on a resume.
So what does this have to do with corrections? Well, many of these folks do get caught. They go before a judge and someone has to look at what was done and make a call. Answering it was illegal is easy. What do you do with them? Some would argue they are Robin Hoods, making information free for the world. Some believe they are just really smart and the corporations are the real corrupt ones. (See The Conscience of a Hacker)
Here is the problem I have. My Robin Hood didn’t burn Sherwood Forrest to help the poor. He also did not use the poor as pawns in his fight with the rich. Take a look at the Sony case. They have a right to protect their intellectually property. They were pursing the matter in court, following the law. A group of offenders breaks into Sony, allegedly to embarrass them. However, someone during the break-in, (more then likely the same folks that broke in) stole 2.2 million credits cards with CVV. There are reports that those card number are being sold. Sony looks bad for the security breach. But was it really necessary to harm Sony’s customers in the fight to make right? So, are hackers misguided “Robin Hoods”, out to defend us against the big bad corporations out there? Or are they what we normally call, common criminals?
On the other hand some of these “criminals” are what we call in the business, “success” stories. “rtm”who released the first Internet worm, later went on to get a doctorate and is a respected expert in the field. The “Condor” is an author and runs a successful information security consulting firm (not withstanding my comment about criminals becoming future security experts). The “Dark Dante” is a senior editor for a major publication as well as an accomplished author.
The bottomline to this discussion, is corrections must do what we always do. Condemn the acts but not the individuals. Hackers, whatever the reasons, are offenders, not modern Robin Hoods. They can be rehabilitated. They are however not modern day technological heroes. Making them sound like a quarter pounder with cheese does not change the fact they have no meat between the buns. Take care and be safe. Time for a cigar!