Who Is Do All the Hacking

In order to make the digital world safer, government organizations such as Homeland Security, DoD, NSA, FCC, and NTIA have worked with critical infrastructure owners and operators to reinforce communications networks such as fiber optics, underwater cables, and satellites systems. They prioritize the protection of entities that assure you have electricity and clean water.  Even with so much security and so many organizations trying to safeguard the information, there are groups of people successfully disrupting services. This undermines confidence in the security of information potentially riding on critical networks. However, it also undermines our belief in systems likes elections, legal process, the medical chain of custody.

Those Guys We Can’t See

Countries like China, Russia, North Korea and Iran pose the greatest nation-state threat to U.S. digital assets.  China has an army of hackers who are sponsored by the state and attempting to steal intellectual property daily. However, the real threat comes from rogue hackers. The reason is when China attempts to breach systems and get around protective measures, the agencies trying to stop them to become familiar with the tactics, techniques and practices.  Intelligence officials learn the type of information China tries to access and the way it goes about obtaining it. When it comes to rogue hackers on the other hand, the agencies cannot even comprehend why they are trying to access the information at the point of breach discovery.

Some rogue hackers simply try to disrupt our everyday lives and wreak havoc without any cause.  There have been numerous instances in our recent history when hackers unleashed a deadly virus that spread from one computer to another using the internet.  The exploit destroyed all the stored data in the computers or locked the computer and demanded ransom in order to return the access to the now encrypted information.

For example, in June of 2017 Merck, a pharmaceutical giant was among dozens of other businesses that were attacked by a sprawling cyber attack Tuesday.  All the victims across the globe faced demands to pay the ransom, otherwise their computers would remain locked forever. The businesses couldn’t afford to have their data lost forever, so many paid.

When, how, and why these rogue hackers attack is impossible to know.  It appears spontaneous and swift in action; however, most criminal activities tie back to financial gain at some level.  Online criminals are like thugs and stick-up men in any U.S. city. However, we aren’t taught online security as children the way adult emphasis we should stay out of dark allies.  So, most of us are not ready to defend ourselves, or our companies.

Organized and Profitable Hacking

Organized crime has found its way to the internet. The same people that used to traffic drugs and extort businesses have joined counterparts who were already using their computer skills for evil.  They do their work in such a sophisticated way that no one can foresee when these people might start an attack. In some cases, transactions are done in a more traditional business sense. There are many stories about social media being used to inquire about and hire hitmen as well as extort someone that might be cheating on a spouse.  Crime is paying dividends online.

Besides organized crime, there are hacktivists who try to hack into the government database to fulfill their political or other desires.  They will often focus an attack on a victim to protest an official action. It is very difficult to find who these people are because they take a lot of measures to make sure that it is almost impossible to track their location and information.  Interestingly, people behind organized crime use hacktivists to do their dirty work of getting information that can be used to create new opportunities. These are not the only people that pose a threat. Hobbyists who hack just for the fun of it, or just because they are getting bored with nothing to do are just as dangerous.  There are several instructional websites and video instruction is easily found on YouTube to carry out various computer hacks. The hobbyist is probably easier to locate than members of organized crime organizations. It used to be that teenage pranks were localized and might only hurt the neighbor’s lawn, but they are now computer crimes.  The big difference is computer crimes are more like public health issues and can spread a virus across the world infecting unintended victims. As more public safety and medical devices become connected it is possible pranks could now even lead to someone’s death.

There is also the threat from insiders.  These are the people inside the organization that have access to sensitive information.  The danger from these individuals stems from their knowledge of security practices, which can be used to bypass the security, make it easier to hack, and gain additional access to information.  The insider threat is a challenge for government and the private sector. Interestingly, workers that don’t follow security protocols are the biggest insider threat. However, the definition implies that the person has malicious intent.  You can imagine the stress on a company when an employee is fired or submits a resignation. Companies typically limit the data an employee can download or lets the employee take leave earlier than their last day. As cyber threats grow, businesses will soon look for any advantage to not be the next victim.  This is regardless of the intent of who the hacker might be.

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