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Protecting your personal information, both on your personal computer and in other places such as your bank or your job, has become more difficult with the massive growth of the internet and the expertise of some unsavory characters called hackers, crackers or phreakers. Whatever they choose to call themselves, they are theives, plain and simple. Some people still question whether or not hacking should be illegal. I think it’s obvious that what hackers do is illegal. A personal computer is personal and the information on it is private. When a hacker invades that privacy, he/she is trespassing and when they take your personal information they’re committing a form of thievery (Ludlow). In addition to hackers, we now have marketers invading our privacy through the use of cookies (Rodger).
Cyberterrorism costs companies, goverments and everday people billions of dollars each year. “Cyberwar may be to the 21st century what blitzkrieg was to the 20th (Arquilla).” In 1994, a Russian hacker broke into CitiBanks funds transfer system and transferred
over $10 million to his own accounts. A 16 year old English hacker penetrated a highly sensitive military research facility in Rome, New York. Just last year hackers shut down several 911 systems in Florida (Smith). So not only are they costing us money but they’re also putting people’s lives in danger.
Even though the theft of money is a growing problem, there are other things for hackers to steal. For instance, hospitals have very elaborate network security setups. Why? Many hackers attempt to gain access to people’s personal medical files in order to blackmail them, or to avenge some injustice by spreading the person’s health problems around. Other possibilities might go as far as to include looking up a patient’s current location, in order for gang members to finish off the survivor of a drive-by shooting or other attempted murder. It is for these reasons that medical facilities computer security procedures are second only to the government’s (Shoben).
There are even more forms of hacking to go into. One type, called phreaking, is often a side-effect of a computer hacker’s work. Phreaking is the manipulation of phone lines and phone services. Over the space of a few years in the early eighties, hackers learned how to make free phone calls, bounce their line around to other places to avoid traces, even damage equipment at the other end of the line. Using the process of phreaking, hackers can anonymously and untraceably link themselves to remote systems, no matter how far away, without incurring long distance charges. Combating hackers is a very expensive process. It is estimated that in 1997 a total of $6.3 billion dollars will be spent on computer security. A great deal of this will go to protect against computer viruses. A computer virus is a very small program that can clone itself at will, over disks and phone lines, and usually causes some devastating impact on the target, such as deleting files, or even damaging the computer. Just like human viruses, such as AIDS, which changes form constantly to avoid destruction, some computer viruses, called polymorphic viruses, change slightly so that any previous anti-virus software will no longer detect it. This is why there are constantly new virus protection tools and utilities. Viruses aren’t the only threat, though.
When a company or organization starts a web page, they must have a wall of some type to keep people on the Internet from accessing parts of their computer system they want to keep private. Such programs are called firewalls, and allow only specified access. A firewall is the main obstacle for a hacker to get through when he is trying to hack in from a remote location. Unfortunately, inept use of the network can leave the firewall inactive or disabled, and once a hacker gets past, he can create hidden ways for himself to access again even if the firewall is restored. Computer security isn’t just sitting in a room tapping away on a keyboard, though. Some hackers who are doing this for a living will go out and search for information that will allow them to break into a system. Remember the hospital with excellent computer security? One firm, which will break into your system, and report its weaknesses (how they did it) back to you, was hired to investigate a certain hospital. The firm found unbreakable computer security, so they put on expensive business suits and walked into the hospital. Because of the suits, potentially troublesome questioners were easily brushed aside as the men freely wandered the hospital. It seemed impossible to access someone’s computerized medical history by the terminals, but why bother to try when the laser printer in an empty lounge was spitting out dozens of them? Right next to it, a receptionists desk had a stack of medical files laying on it. As the men pocketed a few of these, they made their way to the network operations room, where the technician on duty unlocked the door for them when they said they wanted to “Look around” They wandered freely around backup tapes containing the medical files of every patient the hospital had record of, collecting some of them to show to hospital officials. The actual physical security of a building cannot be neglected. If either physical or computer security are lacking, determined hackers can make quick work of the system. Perhaps the most dangerous form of hacking is to break into a system to acquire information. The most common use of this practice would be industrial espionage, one company hiring hackers to obtain advance information on a competitor’s product, but worst of all, foreign governments breaking into other governments systems to obtain military strengths, statistics, and troop deployments for a surprise attack. For this reason, the U.S. computer network utilizes the most costly, complex security available. Even this is not enough, though. A few years ago, a hacker organization broke the CIA and FBI web sites simultaneously and replaced the normal web pages with pornographic materials. The intrusion was detected immediately and within thirty minutes, the site had been restored to normal. To this day, the identity of the group has not been discovered. Hackers represent a clear and present danger to the security of the United States of America. Not only do they cost our nation billions a year, but hackers also contribute to a serious espionage problem. Hacking, no matter its form, is an act of thievery, piracy, or blackmail, and cannot be tolerated (Ludlow).