I recently read the “Millennium” series by Stieg Larsson. The first book in the series is called “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and stars a brilliant young hacker named Lisbeth Salander. You can watch the trailer here. Lisbeths skills as a hacker play a large role in the books and films, she is a member of a group of elite hackers called the hacker republic. However, the book is clear to distinguish these hackers from the kind of people who write viruses and malware. These are the good guy hackers. Another recent mention of a hacker in pop culture was on the television show Bones. In the most recent episode one of the suspects for a murder was a self termed “hacktivist”, or someone who is only a hacker for a cause. Then there is Anonymous.
Probably the most famous of hackers these days, Anonymous is not a single hacker at all, it is a group of hackers that wear the Guy Fawkes masks to conceal their identity. I first became aware of this group when they came out in support of wiki leaks and the whole debacle over the thousands of classified U.S. documents that were released on that website. Since then it has been almost impossible to go a week without hearing news story about this group of hackers. They claim to have no leader, to be just a random collection of do-gooders that happen to be very good working with computers. They do things like hack credit card company websites and bank websites, fighting against the tyranny of “the man”. They even hacked several people’s finances and donated the money to the Red Cross and other charitable organizations. They have adopted the mask of Guy Fawkes because it is a symbol of protest against the establishment and seem to be closely aligned with other protests such as Occupy Wall Street.
As much as Anonymous tries to project an image of activism and protest, as a citizen I find it hard to picture them as anything but a cyber terrorist group, and not just because they took down the Playstation Network. Recently they have hacked into several high profile government sites including CIA.gov and supposedly hacking into an FBI conference call where they were the subject of conversation. As a criminal justice major and former Marine, I can’t see the CIA and FBI as anything but the good guys. That automatically puts Anonymous on the side of evil (if we are going by comic book logic). Anonynous seems to be carrying out these attacks for the simple reason that they can. They have no concept of the consequences, probably because it seems like the establishment they are fighting against can’t seem to do anything about them. However, if you like conspiracy theories, there has been some speculation that they could actually be a front for Chinese or Russian operations against the U.S. Whatever they are, it seems like they are here to stay for awhile.
All this attention that has suddenly come up about hackers got me thinking about how much of my life is currently accessible through digital formats and the security risks of having so much of my information out on the World Wide Web. Since I read a lot of fiction like the Stieg Larsson novels mentioned earlier it was not hard for my imagination to get carried away. I do my banking mostly online; I could become a pauper in the click of a mouse. My social circles are available for perusal on Facebook as well as my actual location at some times. Someone could take one look at my Facebook page and know who my entire family is. A person with the wrong motivations could hack my life and destroy everything I have worked hard to obtain. Databases for arrest warrants and priors are online, one click and I’m suddenly a felon. O.K., maybe that is an exaggeration, but as our lives get more and more digitized criminal justice professionals need to consider the ramifications to future crime trends. In the future crimes like pick pocketing may be as obsolete as VHS. All someone would need to do in the future to steal someone’s money and identity is a computer. Anonymous could be just the start of a whole new era for crime, one which we seem at present to be unable to effectively control.
Here are some links to Wikipedia that you may find informative.