Information War Essay, Research Paper
Throughout history, at least since the late 60s and early 70s, computer hackers have broken into computer systems with much authority. Some of these attacks have caused people problems and sometimes, companies millions of dollars. It is an ongoing battle between the two, and with the internet becoming more popular each and every day (more than 50 million online worldwide), it is crucial for those companies to keep their valuable information safe (Web Psychos 23). Brace yourself for perhaps the largest and most complicated war of all times. Prepare to enter a new era of information warfare. The term “hack” was originally used to describe an elegant or clever programming trick which made computers do what they weren t supposed to do. The people that performed these deceiving tricks were coined the name “hackers”. Hackers started out in the early 1970s with simple, harmless hacks which usually did not do any damage to a companies computer system. Hacking was a prestigious skill, and they wanted to be noticed. These hackers only wanted to learn more about the systems and how they worked. They would usually do minute things such as displaying a message on a company administrator s computer saying, “Ha, Ha, Ha. I just broke into your system!” (Info Warfare) By the late 70s, however, a new breed of hackers had evolved. These hackers are now called today s information warriors. When these hackers hit the networks, they wanted to do more than tiptoe into the system and leave a message. They deleted or altered important data, or sometimes caused the system to crash. In doing so, they threw the first punch that started the information war. Hackers could not only create much chaos in a company, but also make a lot of money by doing it. They could spy on companies confidential data and turn around and sell it to that companies competitor for a large amount of money. A prime example of this would be a notorious German hacker ring that made headlines in the early 90s by breaking into NASA computers looking for salable defense secrets. Another example would be the story of Mark Rifkin, a Security Pacific Bank consultant. He transferred small amounts of money to a New York account until it totaled $10.2 million. If it were not for his boasting of the heist, he would have gotten away with transferring it all to a Swiss account (Info Warfare 210). They didn t get away with it; however, they did spark the public to take notice of hacking. (Web Psychos) If a professional hacker wanted to convert and hack legally, they could simply get caught by the company. The company then would sometimes employ that hacker. They would have the hacker break-in to the company s own system. The company could then take counter measures against future hacks with the knowledge from the hacker. One convert is Ian Murphy, who makes over $500,000 a year doing this for corporate America (Info Warfare). Hackers are not always the professional businessmen of America. In fact, most hackers are males between the age of 12 and 28. Some other characteristics may include things such as: smart but do not apply themselves or their skills in school, misfits and behavioral problems, often misunderstood by others, usually originate from a dysfunctional family, and of course, they can t get a date. (Info Warfare)Hackers cause companies to lose millions of dollars each year. It is mandatory for companies to keep them out of confidential data and everything else. First though, they must learn how they do it. Hackers must first get into the system. They do this by logging on to a computer in a company through a modem. Finding a modem s phone number sounds hard, but it really isn t. Today s information warriors use a software called a “war dialer”. This software dials a list of phone numbers the user gives (such as 482-0000 to 482-9999). When it contacts a modem, it sends back a phone call saying it received it. This identifies the modem and the number to reach it. A hacker now has access to that computer s programs; however, the programs and files are most likely protected by a user ID and a password. (Nord Interview)
Passwords and passphrases are the first line of defense against computer hacks (passphrases are similar to passwords but are phrases of words. Instead of just continuous letters or numbers, they are a phrase of words with spaces in between them such as “My blue dog is bright red.”) A password is the computer s way of identifying the user. If the password typed in matches the one on the computer s file, the user is logged in. If a hacker would try to log into the account and supply the wrong password several times in succession, the account can be locked. A locked account is useless unless unlocked by a system administrator. This locking method doesn t allow one to try to guess a password, and it also will notify the company that someone has tried to break in to the account. (Practical Sec 26)One way a hacker could get the ID or password is from the companies trash. This is known as “dumpster diving”. Often, careless workers will right down passwords on stationaries. By doing so, they have given whoever sees it as much access as what they have. Although it is pretty dirty to do, dumpster diving isn t illegal and many companies do it to the competition for other reasons. (Nord Interview)Another way to get a password is by guessing. Hackers don t sit down and just start punching in passwords, but they let their computer do it for them. Their computers make the phone calls and try the passwords, automatically redialing when they become disconnected. Even a simple home computer with a good password guessing program can try thousands of passwords in less than a day s time. (Practical Sec 32) In almost every computer system, there is at least one “Joe” account. A Joe account is an account where the username and password are the same. A hacker can get into almost any system by simply checking every account to see if it is a Joe account. This is one reason for companies not to make a list of all of the usernames available to the public. The usernames should also be shredded in fear of dumpster diving. (Practical Sec 34)Since passwords are the backbone of computer security, selecting a right password is crucial. One should not choose a password that is as follows: your name or anyone you know, simple patterns of letters on the keyboard, like qwerty, or basically any word in English or foreign dictionaries. These are easy for someone or a software to detect. Not only is selecting a good password important, but so is changing them regularly. Some security systems contain a mobile electronic card that one carries with them. This card displays a new password for that user every 15-20 seconds! (Practical Sec)There is no sure way for companies to be safe from the onslaught of hackers menacing pranks, but with the right security measures, the chances of being hacked into are minimal. Hackers have shown the chinks in the electronic armor. They have penetrated the establishment s technocastle and crossed the moat with little resistance, but as professional hackers, it is their job. Again, with the world becoming more technological, and more information being stored onto computers, the information war gets worse. Who will win? Nobody knows.