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Hacking Comes of Age

This is a guest post by Izzy .The recent sting operation that took down the group of fake companies that used a Conficker worm to steal $72 million US from consumers brought computer hacking back into the spotlight in a big way. Identity theft had been the focus of the majority of computer-related security reporting since the mid-2000s, so it was interesting to hear about a case of relatively “Old School” hacking succeeding to such a large degree. Though the group did steal client information, their way into the client’s accounts was a fairly simple one. In fact, the Conficker used had been around for almost three years, but it was never used to such an incredible degree, or with so much success.

Hacking in a Nutshell

Computer users everywhere understand that having your computer hacked is not a welcome action. Hacking is, in essence, the act of altering computer and software so that it functions differently from the way it was intended. Just as diaries, notebooks, and photo albums once stored our most precious memories or thoughts, computers serve the same purpose now. Add to that the fact that the majority of our financial transactions occur with the assistance of a computer, and there is the potential for real damage to be caused if a network is compromised.

Mind you, everyone does a little hacking all the time. Whether it is jumping levels in a videogame by inputting a particular sequence of numbers, or altering the code on a website, or downloading music illegally, we all modify software or hardware so that it performs to our liking at least a little bit. We just do not call it hacking. It becomes hacking when an entire program or tool is created in order for the alteration to occur on a large scale, like the open x hacking program that began appearing in OpenX banner ads in 2009. Virus software, security systems and packages, and entire safety networks have been designed and implemented in order to combat this problem.

Hacking Developments

In the 90s and even in the early 2000s, erstwhile hackers would dig through the trash of computer users to find mail and other documents that contained account information, passwords, and other personal content. Private individuals and companies invested in industrial-sized shredders and everyone felt safe once again. However, hackers adapted to the times, and suddenly harvesting information became a game of stealing it during transactions that were occurring online, or hacking directly into the directories of large corporations to gain access to client lists. Viruses were created to maximize the amount of data that could be harvested over a short amount of time.

When virus software began to make it difficult to gather information that way, “phishing” appeared. “Phishing” tricked users into giving away their personal information. The programs required that customers input their personal information into websites that were purportedly legitimate, but were actually merely built to harvest information and then use it in whatever way the hackers saw fit. The average person has become increasingly aware of the various ways that their account information, identity, or funds can be stolen online, and their educated diligence has made it more difficult for large scale hacks to be as wildly successful as they might have been just five years ago.

Why The Recent Hack Worked

The success of the “scareware” ring that resulted in $72 million in losses is notable because it was those very fears upon which the scam played. It was the very idea that the tricked consumers were protecting themselves from being hacked, which allowed the hack to collect such a large amount of money in such a short time. The hack tricked people into buying anti-virus protection by bombarding them with fake security alerts. They then stole client banking information and took small amounts of money from multiple people in various countries. It took cyber-security authorities in the United States, the Netherlands, Latvia, Germany, France, Lithuania, Sweden, and the UK, working together, to pinpoint where the hack originated, as the fake company had servers in multiple cities.

Computer design and development is occurring at lightning speed. For proof, just look to the recent rapid-fire releases of the iPad 2, the Samsung Galaxy, and the Kindle Fire. The computer market is incredibly competitive currently. However, hackers seem to be developing as rapidly as the new technologies. The question then becomes not, what will designers think of next, but what will hackers do to alter it?

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