June 20, 2018
Sometimes it’s good to be hacked.
The term ‘hacking often has negative connotations. However, hacking in and of itself is not evil. Hacking essentially is unexpectedly using existing infrastructure. To hack is to think or overcome a problem creatively. When it comes to computer hacking, it is all about your intent. In the same way that a gun can be used to protect in the hands of a police offer and conversely be used with ill intention by a thief in a robbery. A gun is merely a tool. It is not good or evil. How it is used will decide between the two.
Many ethical or ‘white hackers’ use their knowledge to do penetration testing to assess an organisation’s IT security and identify vulnerabilities. These tests can be used to strengthen security and lower an organisation’s risk factors. These solutions can end up preventing breaches in security. We have become more dependant on these online networks. Our dependence has made us more vulnerable. It only makes sense to try and enhance the security of these platforms to secure our private information and provide us with peace of mind. To be hired as an ethical hacker a bachelor’s degree in information security, computer science or mathematics is required. A military background in intelligence is also relevant.
Famous white hackers.
1). Marc “Chameleon” Maiffret.
At 17 Marc’s home was raided by the FBI. As a youngster, he admits that “He was up to no good”. He was never charged with a crime but was given a warning. Since then Marc co-founded eEye Digital security and exposed one of the first vulnerabilities on Microsoft software the infamous Code Red virus which exploited a buffer overflow vulnerability. Marc created one of the first Vulnerability Management and Web Application Firewall products, which are active all over the world and for which he has won multiple awards.
2). Kevin “Condor” Mitnick.
Like many white hackers, Kevin did not start out that way. In fact, Kevin was at one point labelled, ‘’the most wanted computer criminal in U.S history”. Kevin broke into DEC’s computer network and copied their software. He was convicted in 1998 and was in prison for 12 months before being placed on supervised released. Toward the end of his supervised release Kevin hacked into Pacific Bell, a warrant for his arrest was issued, and Mitnick was on the run for over two years. Since 2000 Kevin has worked as a paid security consultant, public speaker and author. His most recent novel released in 2017 is titled, “The Art of Invisibility: The World’s Most Famous Hacker Teaches You How to Be Safe in the Age of Big Brother and Big Data”. Mitnick is also the Chief Hacking Officer of the security awareness training company KnowBe4.
3). Tsutomu Shimomura
Tsutomu helped apprehend Kevin Mitnick. Tsutomu was at the scene of Mitnick’s arrest. Tsutomu was born to Nobel Prize Chemistry winner Osamu Shimomura. Tsutomu worked as a physicist and computer security researcher and is now the chief executive officer at Neofocal Systems. He has worked for the NSA and has testified in front of Congress on issues relating to mobile phone security.
Infamous hacking scandals of our decade.
1). Andrew Auernheimer.
Along with a friend, Daniel Spitler, in 2011 Auernheimer discovered a hole in AT&T’s website which enabled them to secure the email addresses of AT&T iPad users. The government insisted that the access of unprotected emails constituted criminal hacking. Initially, Auernheimer was charged with three years in prison, but this conviction was eventually overturned. The overruled conviction was based on the technical issue of location. The breach had not occurred in New Jersey where Auernheimer was tried for his crime, and it was argued that the New Jersey court had no business charging him. However, many claimed that the conviction was weak in any case because they had accessed data on a public website. It is not clear that obtaining data on a public network qualifies as hacking.
2). Aaron Swartz.
Swartz was indicted in 2011 after connecting to an MIT network and downloading 2.7 million academic papers that were freely available to any campus visitor through JSTOR. JSTOR itself did not prosecute, but the Justice Department in America did. Swartz was charged with 13 counts of felony and stood to face fines of up to 1 million dollars. Swartz ended up committing suicide three months before his trial which is primarily attributed to the prosecution. The prosecution was labelled an abuse of the CFAA law. It is argued that the CFAA law is poorly written and too vague allowing for the prosecutors to exaggerate its intended meaning. There have been many calls since the Aaron Swartz case to reform the act.
3). Fidel Salinas.
In 2012, Fidel was charged with 44 counts of felony for computer fraud and abuse. Fidel allegedly had ties to “Anonymous” a decentralised, international hacktivist group which has targeted many government organisations. Salinas faced 440 years of prison time. However, once more the defence argued against the exorbitant nature of the charges. The prosecution attempted to add a new charge every time Salinas entered text into an unnamed victims website over the course of minutes. Eventually, the charges were reduced to a misdemeanour: slowing down a state government website. Fidel only served six months in prison.
We hope that this article has shed some light on the sometimes ethically complicated practice of hacking. It is clear that a lot of white hackers had nefarious origins. However, they eventually turned their lives around and contributed to help strengthen the integrity of networks. The black hat hackers we discussed in this article also helped to shed some light on how hacking has been used to abuse. Whether you agree with their actions or not it is clear that there are some hefty penalties for illegal behaviour and that particularly in the American context the government is not afraid to persecute aggressively.
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