Why hackers do what they do depends on what they are doing. Many spread viruses that either erase entire systems or the files that they hold. Others break into systems undetected and alter files. Hackers will steal information and presumably sell it to a high bidder or keep it for their own purposes. Tracking these hackers can prove to be very difficult in itself because hackers have a knack for misleading those that are trying to pinpoint their whereabouts.
They may be somewhere in the middle of Moldova, but make themselves seem as if they were hacking from your very own desktop. Organized crime has also taken to hacking, criminals coming to realize that they have a much better shot at making a fortune and getting away with it without literally having to get their hands dirty. Cyber espionage between nations also poses a huge threat to any country under attack and without the proper defenses.
Hacking poses a threat on all scales. Some of the smallest, simplest hacks can have a great impact. Take for example the Syrian Army’s hack on Associated Press’s Twitter account most recently. The hackers tweeted that the White House had been bombed and that President Obama had been injured. This, of course, had many people worried — but the hack was quickly found and the tweet was deleted.
So, no harm done? Well, not exactly. The Associated Press is a trusted company that many people rely on for information — information they believe to always be reliable. As soon as the word spread that the White House was bombed, which only took a matter of seconds, the Dow Jones plummeted 143 points. The market did recover shortly after, but nevertheless the impact that our high-speed information sharing can have on the physical world is impressive. Not to mention worrisome.
What you don’t hear about too often is that the government spends a good amount of their time keeping citizens ignorant to certain events. Many feel that this is unacceptable and that there ought to be full transparency. The problem is that sometimes spreading information only causes more damage. A rumor is what caused the Dow Jones to plunge, not factual events.
Causing panic by spreading false information is one of the most basic, yet surprisingly effective forms of hacking. In a way, it is cyber-terrorism. Thankfully, because information does flow as rapidly as it does, when a fallacy is spread, its correction and nullification will be circulated just as quickly. That is, until hackers figure out a way to cause panic and then to prevent circulation of the truth.
A more immediate threat to our security is now being dubbed cyber-warfare. President Obama not too long ago made a statement underlining the reality of the threat being posed by criminal organizations as well as government-funded hackers. The United States Air Force Academy is currently training cadets in cyber-war technologies, grooming a group of elite cyber warriors.
Cyber-warfare currently mainly consists mostly of informational espionage. However, it would be naïve to think that our enemies are not working on a way to attack our banking systems as well as our methods of communication. More and more things are becoming connected to some sort of network or another. If hackers were able to infiltrate these networks, then it may be possible for them not only to look through all the information available in the entire country, but able to shut us off.
No Internet, no cellphones and possibly no electricity altogether. All this seems like it’s coming straight from a Sci-fi flick, but the truth is that this is all becoming a possible reality.