It seems that the term Hacker has been misused as of late. The media has portrayed all types of computer related crimes under the term Hackers. Which after doing some research on this I find the news media has treated the term unjustly.
First I would like to cover the three different terms I found on several Internet sites and their meanings. 1) Hackers- A slang term for a computer enthusiast, a person holds a great deal of knowledge and expertise in the field of computing. 2) Crackers- refers to individuals who gain unauthorized access to computer systems for the purpose of stealing and corrupting data and 3) Phreaks- are individuals who using a computer or other device trick a phone system to make free calls or to have calls charged to a different account.
Now out of these three terms the first two are the hardest to differentiate from. It seems also that a Hacker can be someone that scans a computer not to steal or corrupt, but to see how a system is set up and what makes it work. Scanning, the cyberspace equivalent of walking down Main Street and jiggling handles to see who leaves the front door unlocked, brings up murky legal issues. Entering someone else’s computer is illegal, but scanning, which amounts to asking a computer how it’s been set up, probably isn’t. There seems to be no consequences for scanning, either to the hacker or the company that provides the means.
The use of the computer to help commit many crimes has risen over the past several years and the world of high-tech crime is often too complex for police and prosecutors to properly handle, Because of this trend, it leads to unnecessary searches, arrests and court delays. There isn t much of a defense bar on computer issues, and not a lot of prosecutors are up on this stuff, says David Banisar, an employee at the Electronic Privacy Information Center and author of a study, published in Criminal Justice Weekly. Sometimes the only person qualified to discuss these technical issues is the defendant, and nobody would believe him anyway.
For the many that are arrested, very few get prosecuted. Using data obtained from the Department of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act, Banisar found that of 419 cases of alleged computer fraud referred to federal prosecutors last year, only 83 cases were prosecuted. The rest, Banisar says, were dismissed by federal prosecutors, usually for lack of evidence. That prosecution rate has held steady since 1992, even as the number of cases has tripled. Every year between 64 percent and 78 percent of federal computer fraud cases are tossed out. The Justice Department, the FBI, the Department of Defense and the National Security Agency are asking for increased budgets to fight cyber crime and defend against infowar despite the fact that less than one-fourth of such cases brought to federal authorities are eventually prosecuted.
The computer crackers that do get caught and prosecuted have a long road ahead of them and one that seems to undermine their constitutional rights for a fair and speedy trial. It took more than four years and five months for hacker Kevin Mitnick to get from his arrest on fraud charges to his sentencing and there wasn t even a trial. Mitnick, who was sentenced Aug. 8 to 46 months in prison and who will be eligible for release in early 2000, isn t alone. Hacker Kevin Poulsen, arrested in 1991, had to wait in prison for more than a year and a half before the U.S. Justice Department indicted him on espionage charges, which were later dismissed. He eventually served five years and two months, without a trial.
For other computer hackers getting caught is kinder to them. After getting caught and released the possibility of being rewarded for their crimes exists because companies who learn of these hackers are quick to offer them top paying positions as security consultants to protect their own computer systems. In one case, a recently released computer criminal, known as Phiber Optik, did not have a difficult time obtaining employment. His criminal record helped him because the publicity of his case portrayed him as a computer genius and an asset to any computer company. Thus upon notice of his release an employer offered him a top paying job as a resident technical guru at a New York based East Coast Hang Out – an online meeting place.
Network Administrators these days are seeing more and more scanning every day. According to Peter Tippett at computer security research firm ICSA, a new box connected to the Net will almost certainly be “scanned” before one week goes by. And the amount of scanning activity has doubled in the past six months. There are thousands of ways to break into a computer, and there are now several downloadable software packages designed to scan the Internet for Web sites and servers that have just one flaw.
Every day they come, they lurk — then they leave without doing damage. Brandon Pepelea a CEO of a small security company he calls “Designer’s Dream,” says his collection of Web sites has been scanned systematically several times a week since January. Pepelea has done a hefty amount of personal cybersleuthing. Last year, he compiled information on a virus writer named VicodinES, and shared it with the FBI, the CIA and other law enforcement agencies. His tips fell on deaf ears, and VicodinES, who the world now knows as Dave Smith, went on to release the Melissa virus. Pepelea’s hell bent on being heard this time around. “Once again, nobody cares,” he laments.
Company executives from across the nation as well as national and state public policy officials were met in April to discuss how to respond to mounting threats to information security. “There are some who believe we are going to have an electronic Pearl Harbor, so to speak, before we really make computer security the kind of priority that many of us believe it deserves to be,” former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn said.
In one year, the Pentagon alone recorded more than 250,000 break-in attempts by computer hackers. Hackers succeeded in gaining access to the Pentagon’s files more than 100,000 times last year. And before the Gulf War, someone even stole military secrets, including troop movements, and offered to sell them to Saddam Hussein, who apparently didn’t believe they were real.
Nearly 80 percent of U.S. businesses have been victims of computer crimes.
58 percent of Fortune 1000 companies have experienced computer break-ins.
A presidential committee has been exploring this problem and has reached some disturbing conclusions. Hackers could ,in fact, shut down large sections of the electric power distribution system, interfere with financial transactions, disrupt telephone service, deny 911 service, etc., says Gen. Robert Marsh, who heads the presidential commission.
Jim Christie, a computer crime investigator for the Pentagon, whose computers are a favorite target of teenage hackers, says it isn’t so-called recreational attacks that worry government officials the most. If a 12- or a 14-year-old kid can do this, that’s an unstructured, unfunded attack, says Christie. When you’re dealing with a nation or a terrorist group, you’re talking about a funded, structured attack. They’re probably going to be far more successful in breaking in and less detectable.