The Costs Society Faces From Hacker Abuse

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Hackers cost governments, corporations, and even normal people billions of dollars per year. You might ask, sure, there are those out there for profit, but what about the college student who was just doing it for fun? Profit or fun, it's still theft. In some cases theft of money, in others, theft of information. Just because a person uses a computer should not impact the severity of their punishment. A murderer's punishment is not affected by which weapon he chooses to employ, so why should a thief's punishment be affected? Usually, information is stolen for the express purpose of making money, either directly, or through the sale of the information obtained, or by blackmail.

In today's fast-paced computerized world, knowledge is indeed power. Through the miracle of the Internet, information can be shared and accessed around the globe, instantaneously. At any given time, millions of people's credit card numbers, social security numbers, and other private data are flying through phone lines near your house. The downside to this technological marvel that we all use, whether we know it or not, is that thieves, disgruntled network administrators, and other unsavory characters can make an easy living off of the Internet, maybe even stealing from you. How? It's all in a day's work for them. One Russian hacker spent a few years bleeding money from the Citibank corporation here in the states from his cozy little house in Russia. His labor was rewarded with $10.4 million dollars in several bank accounts around the world. Unfortunately for him, his labor was also rewarded with arrest. (Caryl, par. 2) However, even though he committed the crime many years ago, he is still in Russia, awaiting extradition. Because of the slow response of the bureaucracy, Russia has bred many hackers. (Caryl, par. 7) Russian hackers do not tamper with systems in Russia, because the Police take swift and vicious revenge for such actions. But other countries systems are another matter, because of the promise of great gain and potentially little risk of being caught. (Caryl, par. 8)

Even though the theft of money is a growing problem, there are other things for hackers to steal. For instance, hospitals have very elaborate network security setups. Why? Many hackers attempt to gain access to people's personal medical files in order to blackmail them, or to avenge some injustice by spreading the person's health problems around. (Scheir, par. 17) Other possibilities might go as far as to include looking up a patient's current location, in order for gang members to finish off the survivor of a drive-by shooting or other attempted murder. (Scheir, par. 10) It is for these reasons that medical facilities computer security procedures are second only to the government's.

There are even more forms of hacking to go into. One type, called phreaking, is often a side-effect of a computer hacker's work. (Machlis, par. 8) Phreaking is the manipulation of phone lines and phone services. Over the space of a few years in the early eighties, hackers learned how to make free phone calls, bounce their line around to other places to avoid traces, even damage equipment at the other end of the line. Using the process of phreaking, hackers can anonymously and untraceably link themselves to remote systems, no matter how far away, without incurring long distance charges.

Combating hackers is a very expensive process. It is estimated that in 1997 a total of $6.3 billion dollars will be spent on computer security. (Lohr, par. 1) A great deal of this will go to protect against computer viruses. A computer virus is a very small program that can clone itself at will, over disks and phone lines, and usually causes some devastating impact on the target, such as deleting files, or even damaging the computer. Just like human viruses, such as AIDS, which changes form constantly to avoid destruction, some computer viruses, called polymorphic viruses, change slightly so that any previous anti-virus software will no longer detect it. This is why there are constantly new virus protection tools and utilities.

Viruses aren't the only threat, though. When a company or organization starts a web page, they must have a wall of some type to keep people on the Internet from accessing parts of their computer system they want to keep private. Such programs are called firewalls, and allow only specified access. A firewall is the main obstacle for a hacker to get through when he is trying to hack in from a remote location. Unfortunately, inept use of the network can leave the firewall inactive or disabled, and once a hacker gets past, he can create hidden ways for himself to access again even if the firewall is restored.

Computer security isn't just sitting in a room tapping away on a keyboard, though. Some hackers who are doing this for a living will go out and search for information that will allow them to break into a system. Remember the hospital with excellent computer security? One firm, which will break into your system, and report its weaknesses (how they did it) back to you, was hired to investigate a certain hospital. (Scheir, par. 13) The firm found unbreakable computer security, so they put on expensive business suits and walked into the hospital. Because of the suits, potentially troublesome questioners were easily brushed aside as the men freely wandered the hospital. It seemed impossible to access someone's computerized medical history by the terminals, but why bother to try when the laser printer in an empty lounge was spitting out dozens of them? (Scheir, par 24) Right next to it, a receptionists desk had a stack of medical files laying on it. As the men pocketed a few of these, they made their way to the network operations room, where the technician on duty unlocked the door for them when they said they wanted to "Look around" They wandered freely around backup tapes containing the medical files of every patient the hospital had record of, collecting some of them to show to hospital officials. The actual physical security of a building cannot be neglected. If either physical or computer security are lacking, determined hackers can make quick work of the system.

Perhaps the most dangerous form of hacking is to break into a system to acquire information. The most common use of this practice would be industrial espionage, one company hiring hackers to obtain advance information on a competitor's product, but worst of all, foreign governments breaking into other governments systems to obtain military strengths, statistics, and troop deployments for a surprise attack. For this reason, the U.S. computer network utilizes the most costly, complex security available. Even this is not enough, though. A few years ago, a hacker organization broke the CIA and FBI web sites simultaneously and replaced the normal web pages with pornographic materials. The intrusion was detected immediately and within thirty minutes, the site had been restored to normal. To this day, the identity of the group has not been discovered.

Hackers represent a clear and present danger to the security of the United States of America. Not only do they cost our nation billions a year, but hackers also contribute to a serious espionage problem. Hacking, no matter its form, is an act of thievery, piracy, or blackmail, and cannot be tolerated

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