The word ‘hacker’ often conjures the image of a 30-something year old man, possibly donned in a fedora, hitting away at a computer in his parent’s basement. He’s doing minor things- maybe changing every noun on his school’s website to something vulgar, taking another celebrity’s nude photos, or at the worst getting your credit card info, all easily repaired with some work.
This image in the public’s minds, however, is quickly beginning to change. Hacking is no more the pastime of match.com rejects and derelicts, hacking is now an elite and exclusive business.
Imagine turning on your computer one morning and seeing only a pop-up. The pop-up simply gives you one demand: send $500, or all your files will be deleted, permanently. You have 72 hours to send these mysterious file kidnappers your money, and they remind you with a timer in the corner of your computer you can’t delete.
The CryptoLocker virus, which first appeared on the Internet in September 2013, was impossible to permanently delete and scammed an estimated $27 million out of people. The most terrifying part is that it wasn’t just a single person who orchestrated this in his spare time; this was a group effort by an entire network of hackers, with the sole purpose of taking money. They are intelligent, organized and virtually untraceable, and have successfully turned hacking into a profitable business venture.
Take your mind away from a bunch of people sitting in a cramped, dusty basement. Instead, imagine office buildings, usually in Russia, full of 20-somethings who couldn’t get work anywhere else. Why would they agree to do something illegal, which could land them in jail for an insurmountable amount of time? It’s easy work, and it makes them a lot of money.
According to Joseph Menn, author of Fatal System Error: The Hunt for the New Crime Lords Who are Bringing Down The Internet, hackers are celebrities, especially in Russia. You don’t just get to join the hacking business, you have to submit a resume to a “boss” of all the great hacking ventures you have, what you can bring to the company and why he should give you a portion of his money. There are even hacker magazines showcasing the best exploits of Russia’s technological underground. It’s glamorous work that anyone would want to be a part of.
This, coupled with the growth of the Internet as a whole, has led to the expansion of the business of hacking as a whole, and its evolution to a serious threat.
Hackers aren’t afraid to connect with each other either. The anonymity of the Web has allowed websites like dark0de (often written as Darkode,) to thrive. Darkode described as “eBay for hackers,” is a prime example of how hackers use their skills to network, form groups and effectively become more dangerous and harder to take down. A hacker may post saying they have a program to let you spy on anyone’s computer and you can rent it for X amount of dollars an hour. It’s streamlined and incredibly easy for hackers to get work and infect more computers than they ever could before. Criminals, whose anonymity can protect them, are using public forums to do illegal business.
In July 2015, Darkode was taken down and 70 of its members were arrested under the FBI’s Operation Shrouded Horizon. Darkode, however, only stayed
down for two weeks. It’s back, and with increased security, making it harder for the FBI to destroy the hornet’s nest.
In order to put operations such as Darkode down, the perception of hackers being minor annoyances must be changed. This global threat has evolved as the Internet has, and now that it is more business than pleasure, the motives and drive of those involved will drastically change for the worse.
-Blog written by Shelby Watson