Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Dark Side

Now that I talked about the Internet culture in general in Out of the Mists of Antiquity... I will discuss the inevitable dark side,

In the beginning there trust and sharing, but alas this was not paradise, just another place for humans to interact.

One of the earliest, and well know, examples of the dark side is the flame war. This is the term given when two or more parties disagree on a topic and the "discussion" becomes heated. Per Goodwin's Law a lengthy flame ware will end up with at least one Nazi. A few factors seem to be a major cause of these wars:
  1. Anonymity - when no one knows who you really are some people will say things that would not in a face-to-face situation.
  2. Lack of body language can cause misunderstandings. Somewhere I read an article on a study that boiled down to about 80% of the time we assume we know the "tone" of written communication, but in reality we are only right about 10% of the time.
  3. Until recently with digital recording devices something spoken virtually disappeared once it was spoken, but once something is typed it is, or can be, saved word for word. Hence the old adage of don't e-mail or send a message that you wouldn't want printed in the newspaper.
Now on to what everyone thinks of as the real dark side hackers. In the early days a hacker was someone of great skill and ability a hacker could create a short powerful script or program in a short time and get something useful done with it. One of the most famous, and politically active, of these is Richard M. Stallman. Many would consider him eccentric, but consider his article originally written in 1997 titled The Right to Read where there is no such thing as a library and scholars require government reading grants to be able to afford the fees for research... talk about derailing scientific discovery.

The natural curiosity of these hackers lead to exploring systems they where not granted access to. Thus the cracker was born.
NOTE: To the purest calling a cracker a hacker is like calling a sniper a marksman.
Some of the people breaking into systems began leaving began signs that they had been there by destroying or damaging files and the most visible of these being web site defacement. The hey I'm cool look what I did phase. Web site defacement while still done is not where the dark side is concentrating the motivation has changed from fame to financial gain.

One of the easiest, most entertaining, ways to understand this is through the "Stealing the Network" Series by Syngress. This series contains fictional short stories written by well known security experts that are technically accurate unlike the depictions shown in movies.

Stealing the network: How to Own the Box shows the "cottage industry" stage of the early crimes for profit.

The subsequent titles move in to the more sinister organized crime stage that we are currently experiencing, while still staying technically accurate. The books, in order, are: Stealing the Network: How to Own a Continent, Stealing the Network: How to Own an Identity and Stealing the Network: How to Own a Shadow.

I personally recommend the entire Stealing the Network series.

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