From Issue #6
Netspionage Costing Billions
by Linda Lee, 18
Two years ago, a fifteen-year-old boy logged onto the Internet under
the alias 'Comrade'. To some of us, our idea of hacking might
include breaking into an email account or viewing confidential
company information. However, no one expected that 'Comrade'
would cause a three-week shutdown at NASA, steal government
email passwords, intercept over 3000 emails and download close
to $2 million worth of software used to operate the international
space station. If that was not shocking enough, he had twice
gained access to the computers used by the Pentagon to monitor
threats of nuclear and biological warfare.
hacking has been around for as long as we can remember - certainly
as long as we have had a World Wide Web.
Occasionally, the news speaks of silly pranks which imply nothing
more than a temporary shutdown of a website, although 'Comrades'
hack forced a three-week shutdown for repairs and cost the U.S.
Recently, the case of the hackers tampering with the CIA's website,
changing the title to 'Central Stupidity Agency' and filling
it with obscenities was merely a nuisance for the agency. It
posed no real threat because the CIA's files are inaccessible
via that Internet site.
Undoubtedly, there are some who see humour in this - a civilian,
probably not even a professional, outwitting an elite US agency.
Then there are more serious crimes, which are no laughing matter.In
one case of corporate espionage, two 'heavy manufacturing' firms
were bidding on a $900 million contract; one outbid the other
by a fraction of a percent.
This was no co-incidence as the losing company later discovered
that someone had broken into the company's computer network
and accessed files that contained bidding strategy information.
In another case, authorities are chasing an individual who regularly
hires U.S. teens to access confidential documents. One young
hacker was paid $1,000 - and promised $10,000 more - for stealing
design documents for kitchen appliances from U.S. firms.
selling the trade secrets to a company's competition, some hackers
resort to extortion of the company. In Sweden, a 15 and 17 year
old tried to extort $2 million from a cellular company to destroy
information they had illegally downloaded.
Like most cases of extortion, the criminal's identity is especially
difficult to trace and is magnified because of the nature of
When the Internet was gaining immense popularity, businesses
were scrambling to secure domain names and using the technology
to expand their market. Seeing e-commerce as an untapped goldmine,
many were eagerly diving headfirst into a slew of problems,
including security breaches.
Companies like eBay, Buy.com, Yahoo! Amazon and Excite were
not prepared when 'Mafiaboy' decided to strike. The 16-year-old
Montreal teen crippled their sites last year when he bombarded
them with thousands of simultaneous messages, preventing legitimate
users from gaining access. His five-day tirade caused an estimated
$1.7 billion in damages.
These malicious and insidious attacks threaten security and
cost companies and organizations billions of dollars. A survey
of the Fortune 1000 companies in 1999 estimates a loss of $45
billion from information theft.
Of course, many organizations are taking extra security measures,
including the usage of firewalls (a security mechanism that
allows limited access to sites from the Internet).
hackers will gain access. If a fifteen year old can shutdown
NASA, what hope is there?
Recently, Ernst & Young, a major consulting and accounting
firm, set up computer labs across North America which allow
information security consultants to perform 'ethical hacks'
to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a client's networks
By using existing hacker tools, they're fighting fire with fire.
'Ethical hackers' are being paid thousands of dollars to provide
clients with clear evidence of how vulnerable their networks
are to attacks that could compromise their most sensitive information.
This is proving an effective way of gauging the level of security
within a system.
Hacking has become so prevalent that it is almost synonymous
with the computer subculture. This "computer geek"
culture is portrayed on television (X-files, the Lone Gunmen)
and in movies (Hackers, Anti-Trust) as cynical and often self-righteous.
With that, there is a sense of rebellion against big business;
the proverbial David struggling against a corporate Goliath.
In many of these crimes, people do them to defy corporations
or the government; money is not always the motive. However,
it is an act that is still unacceptable that victimizes all
who use the Internet.
Viruses, shutdowns, crashes and email hacking will be the burden
of the user, a
company's money lost to theft will be the burden of its customers
and a government's money spent on security will be the burden
of its citizens.
Is there anyone not affected by Internet crime? Nope.
software is a good start
to protecting yourself and your data