Cybercrime, the more formal term for computer hacking is making the news more than ever. At the corner of much of the recent news is the cyber terrorist group Anonymous. According to one member, if you identify yourself by name, you're no longer a "member" of Anonymous. Anonymous has no leader, no chain of command and no formal membership. It is a syndicate of international people who fight against injustices. (To read more about computer hacks, check out Most Costly Computer Hacks Of All Time.)
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Anonymous represents a generation of cybercriminals much more evolved than cybercrime's founding fathers. One of its favorite targets is the military. In fact, during this week's attack on what Anonymous calls, "military Monday", the group published the login credentials for 90,000 email accounts from the Marine Corps, Homeland security, SOCOM and other government agencies by breaking in to a large government contractor's servers.
Anonymous said in a release that it expected it to be difficult to break into a company server like Defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, but found a server that had very little security and it ended up being very simple. Anonymous has also victimized Bank of America, Visa, Mastercard, the city of Orlando and many other big name clients.
Anonymous doesn't pick its targets at random. Each of its targets has done something which, in the mind of Anonymous, is a social injustice, often citing an attack on a person's freedom of speech. Visa and Mastercard were targeted because of their refusal to process donations received for Wikileaks. This represents a shift from the days when hacking was done for not much more than bragging rights.
New Kind of Terrorist
Anonymous has raised the stakes in cybercrime. What used to be small attacks on relatively small websites has evolved into costing companies large amounts of money.
The recent outage of the Sony Playstation Network will end up costing Sony $24 billion to fully clean up the damage done by hackers. This estimate includes the cost of repairing the network as well as the rush of class action lawsuits centered around the breach of subsequent release of customer data. (If you feel you have been a victim of having your information stolen, read Identity Theft: Who To Call For Help.)
Many fear that the next evolutionary jump for cybercrime is when the damage reaches catastrophic levels. In an experiment dubbed the Aurora experiment, a large power generator was broken in to by a hacker. The hacker was able to make it physically self-destruct to the point where it was unrepairable. When a generator suffers catastrophic damage, they have to be ordered and manufactured which takes months at the least and years at the most.
Although our power grid is criticized as being largely outdated, that has helped to shield it from hackers. The easiest way to keep something safe from cyber attack is to not plug it into the internet, but as the grid is slowly updated and placed online, it is becoming more and more vulnerable to cyber attack. If a coordinated attack were to take place on the power grid and generators damaged beyond repair, the economic effects are unthinkable. Large areas of the country could be in the dark for a very long time costing billions of dollars.
Fortunately, the world's governments have worked extensively on this and have made progress. "We've worked really closely with (other countries) and the power grids are very redundant across the United States, to include Canada, such that the ability to do that nationally or even regionally is really hard to do based upon the work that we've done in the industry," said Ron Dick, who works on this issue for the FBI.
In 2000, a person who was upset that he wasn't hired for a job with the city, hacked in to its waste management system and caused 2 million gallons of raw sewage to be released into parks, streams and local hotels in Australia. Not only was this considered a nuisance and the cost to the city to clean up was sizable, the public health threat could have been much worse. Although a large amount of animals died, no humans suffered serious health concerns in the attack. This event proved that a coordinated attack against all areas of infrastructure is possible.
With a push towards healthcare records being completely automated, this presents an opportunity for attackers to steal names, addresses, health insurance information and social security numbers of patients. This information is worth big money online for other identity thieves. Second, new technology allows doctors to perform procedures from a remote location by harnessing the power of the internet. Could this be a future source for hackers?
The cloud is the new way of using the internet, and it's growing at an almost uncontrollable rate. An overgeneralization of the cloud is that it eliminates the hard drive from your computer because all of your files and programs can be accessed and used from an outside server. This is often referred to as the cloud.
Dr. Nir Ksherti, an associate professor of business administration in UNCG's Bryan School of Business and Economics says that the security policies haven't kept up with the growing popularity of the cloud and, because of that, they are largely vulnerable to attach. Because the cloud is used by some of the country's largest companies, a large scale threat may be developing.
The Bottom Line
With cybercrime costing larger organizations an average cost of $3.8 million per year with some as high as $52 million, and the threat to countries becoming more real every day, the military now sees the cyber landscape on par with land, sea and air. (With the landscape of the world constantly changed, how would past leaders handle it? For more read If These Famous World Leaders Were In Finance.)