Monday, November 17th, 2008...2:25 pm

The Dark Side Of The Web

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Are you entangled in the web? Millions of us across the globe use the internet on a daily basis. It has revolutionised communication just as Gutenberg’s printing press did in the Middle Ages. At a flick of a button you can go practically anywhere, speak to anyone, start any business, open a bank account, buy anything, assume any identity, live an idealised life in a virtual world and gain access to a kaleidoscope of information. The web is wunderbar! Isn’t it?

But beneath its surface is a dusky mysterious world of intrigue, deceit, espionage, monsters and super creeps. With terrorist cells, doppelgangers, fraudsters, black hats, viruses, worms, phishes, Trojan horses, governmental and industrial spying all lurking in the shadows.

The cost of cyber crime, hacking and fraud in particular, is estimated at between five and ten billion dollars per year. High-profile hackers appeal to our anti-hero, anti-establishment sensibilities no doubt. Ironically, however, they often end up in top corporate and government jobs – once they have paid their penance of course. Who said crime doesn’t pay?

The collapse of the Berlin Wall symbolised the ending of The Cold War. Do we know have the Firewall – a symbol of the Cyber War? Here’s a selection of juicy titbits about the scammers, spooks and big players who inhabit The Net’s underworld:

Cyber Wars

Estonia Vs Russia
Combine a pint-sized Baltic state, the removal of a bronze statue of a Soviet WW2 soldier and the acrimonious reaction from Estonians of Russian descent and we have the first war in cyber space. The data-flooding of Estonia’s computer networks caused chaos and mayhem for over a month and the blame has been squarely laid at Russia’s door. The Russian government has denied any involvement in the incursions, which almost closed down the country’s digital infrastructure, clogged the presidential and parliament websites, almost crippling the biggest bank and overwhelming the sites of several daily newspapers. ‘It turned out to be a national security issue’ Estonia’s national defence minister, Jaak Aaviksoo, said in an interview. Computer security experts from NATO, Israel, the European Union and the USA have since converged on Estonia to help and to glean what they can about the threat of cyber war in the digital age.

China Vs Taiwan
Not only does China employ internet censorship in its country, but it has been reported that it has entered into a cyber war with Taiwan. A US government official warned that China is equipping itself to attack. Richard Lawless, deputy Defence under secretary said that if war broke out between China and Taiwan then it is probable that China’s first line of attack would not be humans, but is likely to be against things which keep Taiwan’s high tech society running. China would attack critical components of Taiwan’s infrastructure such as telecommunications, utilities, broadcast media, cellular, internet and computer networks; effectively isolating Taiwan from the rest of the world. Beijing insists that democratic, self-governing Taiwan is part of China and has threatened to attack if Taiwan seeks a permanent split or delay unification too long.

Al Qaeda Vs MI5
Authorities fear that terrorists are transmitting hidden messages on child porn sites as a way of secretly communicating with each other. This link came to light when UK, Italian and Spanish police made anti-terror swoops and found child pornography on suspect’s computers.

In a separate investigation authorities found 40,000 child porn images; MI5 are actively researching these links in an attempt to better understand how such sites are being used by terrorists. It is believed terrorists are exploiting techniques set up by paedophile rings to store, encrypt and transmit information securely on the internet. Villains will always strive to stay one step ahead of the law.

Famous Hackers

Jonathan James
This boy led the US authorities on a merry dance, cracking into the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) server. The DTRA is responsible for reducing the threat to the USA from nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. The backdoor he created enabled him to view sensitive e-mails and gain employees usernames and passwords. He also stole $1.7m worth of software from NASA, causing a computer system shutdown which cost $50,000. Diplomatic James said ‘the code itself was crappy….certainly not worth the $1.7m they claimed….’ Had he been an adult James would have likely been sentenced to 10 years in prison. But the kid was only sixteen. He ended up doing six months inside and is the first juvenile to be sent to prison for hacking. Jonathan James died in May of this year.

Adrian Lamo
Dubbed the ‘homeless hacker’, he used internet connections at coffee shops and libraries for his break-ins. Lamos’s intrusions consisted mainly of penetration testing, where he would find flaws in the system, exploit them and then inform the companies involved. His roll of honour includes The New York Times, Microsoft, Yahoo and the Bank of America amongst others. For cracking into The New York Times he was ordered to pay $65,000 compensation and sentenced to six months home confinement and two years on probation. Lamo is quoted as saying ‘I have a laptop in Pittsburgh, a change of clothes in DC. It kind of redefines the term multi-jurisdictional’. And guess what? Lamos is now an award winning journalist and public speaker.

Kevin Mitnick
The Department of Justice described Mitnick as the most wanted computer criminal history. This modern day Jesse James learned the ropes through exploiting the LA bus punch-card system to get free rides.

Mitnick then upped his game considerably and went on a two-and-a-half-year hacking spree in which he stole corporate secrets, scrambled phone systems and broke into the national defence warning system. He was ultimately convicted for breaking into the Digital Equipment Corporations network and stealing software. He was banged up for a mighty eight years. And guess what? Yep, he is now a successful computer security consultant, author and public speaker. Mitnick has also had two films made about him, Freedom Downtime (2001) and Takedown (2000).

Gary McKinnon
British born McKinnon, also known as SOLO, is facing extradition to the States to face charges which have been described as ‘the biggest military computer hack of all time’. He stands accused of hacking into 97 NASA and US military computers over a two week period. The US estimates that the cost of tracking down the problems and then resolving them will take a $700,000-size bite out of the country’s savings. McKinnon has always denied causing any damage and disputes the cost claim. He did, however, admit to leaving a note on one computer: ‘US foreign policy is akin to government sponsored terrorism these days…I am SOLO, I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels’. A group has been set up to campaign against McKinnon’s extradition – he could face up to 70 years in the can if convicted in the US.

Do you have a tale from The Dark Side?


  • Great post. Operation Takedown was a good flick. never saw Freedom Downtime… pbay here I come.

    In highschool, a friend and I had some ‘fun’ with our network. Nothing harmful, the teachers kept their payroll. When we’d had enough, we alerted them of several glaring security holes (in their ancient old Novell network). Lets just say they were more pissed about having to shell out the cheddar for a new infrastructure. We told them to use Linux, but noooo.

  • The Great Depression, unfolding as we speak, will cause unemployment of current and prospective computer wizards. They will be easy to enlist in any illegal activity that has food as a reward. Caution to the government and its services, they will not go unscathed! A measure of the depth of the depression will be outbreaks if various forms of civil disobedience, computer hacking one venue! It will be very hard for state troops to corral starving citizens if they can’t get their GPS to work! Harder for specially trained, combat hardened army corps now being trained, to organize, and control populations. We the People are not defenceless yet! we still have intelligence!

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