Recently the world or more specifically the Western society has been dominated by something sophisticated enough to throw a civilization into a new era, a piece of hardware we call a computer. Computers have become an irreplaceable part of our lives and we end up dealing with them no matter where we go and what we do. Today computers control pretty much every aspect of our lives. They store and manipulate our funds, property, and personal information. As our society entered computer age, and so did crime. Why risk your life breaking into a store with a gun for few thousand dollars when now you can steal millions and even billions without getting up from a sofa in your own basement? It is obviously not as easy as it sounds, however combination of computer hardware and software makes it possible. Computers play a “double role” in today’s world. Just like weapons they are used in both ways – to protect, and to attack. Attackers, victims, and security are the three major groups of people involved in today’s cyber-struggle.
An attacker in a digital world is called a hacker or a cracker. But who are these people and where do they come from? What motivates them and how serious of a threat are they today? Since the beginning of computing and early networking there has been a continued and increasing threat of information destruction, and theft of services. This threat has been identified as being a hacker threat. The original definition of a hacker was less negative. Hackers were the programmers who could get the most efficiency out of computers. Hackers, frequently writing programs in machine code, would minimize resource requirements delivering the maximum efficiency and utility out of systems that were memory bound. As computers evolved and basic networks were implemented through telecommunications companies, some hackers turned to unauthorized access of computer systems as a way of exploring technology. Today, the world of hacking is extremely large and it is difficult to divide it into categories. The criminal hacker or “black hat” hacker probes systems for unauthorized and illegal purposes. The majority of hackers are young people who are attracted to computers and to the underground outlaw image of hacking.
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They populate warez and hacker web sites searching for information, “how to” guides, and anything else that can provide a head start to their career in hacking. Another group, and one that is potentially very dangerous is the script kiddie. These self-proclaimed hackers do not have the technical skills of the elite hacker groups. They have ability to run programs that others write to probe and to compromise systems. Script kiddies may not even know how to compile and run a program but rely on windows based programs to do their dirty work. Script kiddies are potentially the most dangerous of the hacking community since their intent is often towards the dark side of hacking and they do not have the skills to appreciate the potential for damage. Often they may be as interested in crashing a system, as they would be in exploring it. Their goal is to gain bragging rights focusing on the number of systems penetrated or crashed.
While the work that hackers do to compromise systems may seem highly technical and specialized, the fact is that many systems are so vulnerable, and the targets to attack so numerous that success is almost always guaranteed and hacking has almost risen to the degree of being an international crisis. But what are the targets that attract criminals from all over the cyberworld? Hackers attack pretty much everything that is connected to the network and is of any use. Such targets range from personal computers and telephone companies to banks and big business servers. Regardless of how or where you connect to the Internet, you most probably have been a victim of some type of information collection, probing, or cracking. Corporations, government agencies, non-profit companies, educational institutions – no matter where you work, your are at risk of at least being scanned and probed by potential intruders. You are not safe at home either. Users who access the Internet through a cable modem or other high speed connection can expect to be scanned and probed several times each week and compromised just as often if the system is vulnerable to attack. If you use a dial connection you are only slightly safer. You can be scanned or attacked from a dial access connection just as easily. The only difference is that dial users do not leave the computer connected when it is not in use as cable modem users might.
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The worst part of the scenario is that most people do not take the threat seriously. Many think that their personal computers are useless to others and do not even realize that their hard drive is simply used to store 20Gb of illegal warez. Others do not bother reading over monthly credit card reports and leave countless frauds unnoticed.
It is obvious that people are not ready to take matter in their own hands. So do the criminals get punished? Who is there to protect us?
Hackers and hacker organizations share an interest in information protection, sometimes for different reasons than a security organization might. In the end however hackers and information security organizations often trade information across mail groups and use many of the same tools and information sources. Some hackers probe applications and systems and report on vulnerabilities, which aids system administrators and security personnel. However the majority of hackers use their skills for their own purposes and cyber crime is growing daily. The fact is that anyone can become a hacker with little effort or knowledge. Extensive information is available from hacker sites. Powerful utilities can be easily obtained that can be used to search the Internet for potential targets and then to exploit a common vulnerability to gain access. Ever since the Computer Emergency Response Team has been collecting information, the number of incidents reported to them has increased from a low of 6 for the first year of operation to almost 9,000 incidents for the first half of this year. To further illustrate the extent of the problem, the FBI(FEDCIRC) was involved in 580 incidents in 1999. This may not seem like a large number but this represents a total of 1,496,268 hosts that were hacked. For the first six months of 2000 the FBI has been involved in 247 cases involving some 475,624 hosts. It seems like this year we will break all records unless positive steps are taken to reduce risk by eliminating vulnerabilities, and management can detect potentially threatening activity and react appropriately.
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