How easy IS it to hack?

Salman Ali Virk delves into the dark world of online hacking in the wake of Anonymous’ actions against ISIS

NUSU
30th November 2015

Following the atrocious attacks in Paris, the hacktivist group known as ‘Anonymous’ started a campaign against ISIS named #Opisis. As the operation picked up pace, the move was welcomed by the online community (including myself) but many law enforcing agencies complained that it would harm their intelligence gathering operations, a prediction that seems to be coming true. There have been numerous accounts of individuals and organisations being caught up in the ISIS backlash simply due to their use of the Arabic alphabet, without any specific reference to the extremists’ views. Potentially innocent Twitter users, including Kurds, Iranians and Palestinians, have been linked to the group by the “amateur” hacktivitists.

The majority of hacktivists who are part of the campaign seem to be aware of the situation. They urged participants saying: “just because a website or post is written in Arabic or is from a person of Muslim faith does not, and should not, make them a target.”

But this is not the first time innocent bystanders have been victims of such campaigns. Back in 2011, following Sony’s suit over the notorious hacker GeoHotz (famous for iPhone and Playstation 3 jailbreak), Anonymous hacked into the Playstation Network. As a result, some 77 million registered PlayStation Network accounts were exposed for a period of 23 days. Though there was no credit fraud on a major scale, many users complained as their credit card details were easily accessible and vulnerable during this period (although it should be noted that they were later compensated by Sony).

“Hackers help us find vulnerabilities and point them out, resulting in upgraded security systems”

Hacking can have both beneficial and detrimental effects on society. In a way, hackers help us find vulnerabilities and point them out, resulting in upgraded security systems. On the other hand, hackers also create tools that allow us to break into systems, and when they fall in to the wrong hands, they can wreck havoc. As with most things in life, hackers have the choice to use theirs skills for good, or for bad but the fundamental skill set they have is essentially the same. In the digital age that we live in, with more and more information being stored online, there is no guarantee that everyone and their personal details are safe. Because of this, hacking can be a useful tool in order to understand how security systems work and how they can be compromised. This is perfectly personified by Anonymous who strive to bring terrorist extremism to justice, but are getting innocent people and inexperienced hackers caught up in the process.

Hacking can have both beneficial and detrimental effects on society. In a way, hackers help us find vulnerabilities and point them out, resulting in upgraded security systems. On the other hand, hackers also create tools that allow us to break into systems, and when they fall in to the wrong hands, they can wreck havoc. As with most things in life, hackers have the choice to use theirs skills for good, or for bad but the fundamental skill set they have is essentially the same. In the digital age that we live in, with more and more information being stored online, there is no guarantee that everyone and their personal details are safe. Because of this, hacking can be a useful tool in order to understand how security systems work and how they can be compromised. This is perfectly personified by Anonymous who strive to bring terrorist extremism to justice, but are getting innocent people and inexperienced hackers caught up in the process.

“In the digital age that we live in, with more and more information being stored online, there is no guarantee that everyone and their personal details are safe”

It is key to bear in mind that whilst all hackers may not share the same motives, they can be characterised by their sense of purpose. The Pranksters are the mischief-makers of the bunch whose intention is merely to annoy. They are the much like those who sound fake fire alarms or phone-scam people. Copycat hackers are also considered as pranksters by the hacking community, while fame seekers always hack in a group. Their purpose is just to seek attention or, perhaps, they are out to prove their worth to other groups they are in competition with. They tend to attack high profile sites such as Yahoo, eBay, or NASA with the purpose of achieving bragging rights amongst their mates. There are also student hackers, who might introduce modifications for a video game. They are likely to justify hacking by saying that they are sharpening their skills or expanding their computing education. Last but not least, there are criminals. These are potentially the most dangerous hackers we face on a daily basis as they attempt to obtain personal and financial details. One of the more recent, high-profile examples of this was the TalkTalk scandal were thousands of customers’ personal details were leaked with an estimated cost to the company of £35m.

However, it isn’t always your credit details they are targeting but “sensitive information”. The prime example of this being Wikileaks, who released private and confidential information in the name of “truth”, causing a sense of mistrust between influential figures and the general public. Such hackers can also be identified as Robin Hood hackers.

Obviously, no-one wants to become the target of any of these hackers, but fortunately for us, there are measures you can take to protect yourself.  If you use a wireless network, you should be sure to use an encryption program (DES, WEP, and WPA) that will protect your device. Install an up-to-date anti-spyware sweeper because an unprotected computer is like an open door for computer hackers and predators. Stay safe out there.

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