Hackers' manners and methods

Hackers have used a variety of excuses to justify their activities, such

as attacking corporate greed or saving the environment. Sometimes, they

claim that they're helping to save a World Wide Web site by revealing holes

in its security system.

But beyond malicious violence, there's little to explain attacks such as

the one on the Library of Congress Web site. Vandals defaced the home page

of the library's Thomas legislative search. The library upgraded firewalls

and other security items, but upgrades had been planned prior to the break-in.

Denial-of-service assaults represent a form of copycat vandalism that original

hackers would regard as low-class. The "love bug" virus and recent mutations

fall into the same category. Also, some of the "kiddy hackers" have been


Consider these examples from this year:

* An individual disabled the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles site,

an incident that mirrored similar recent denial-of-service attacks. Authorities

located the suspect within an hour and charged him with felony computer

trespass. The attacker said dissatisfaction with his car insurance coverage

made him do it.

* A database programmer for an online stock trading system carried out a

denial of service attack on his employer. His motive? Although the company

had agreed to his initial demand during contract negotiations — a $70,000

cash bonus and $50,000 in stock — he said the company's rejection of his

counteroffer made him do it after he backed out of the deal and made more


* Motives also can include robbery and blackmail. Crackers broke into several

servers on Visa's global network and stole information. Their e-mail demanded

money in exchange for the data.

Maneuvering on the Internet highway requires the same degree of self-control

as does driving on an Interstate highway. A computer hacker is comparable

to a driver who weaves back and forth across all the lanes, blocking traffic

from proceeding.

Immature people seem to get a heady feeling of power from preventing normal

activity — whether it is driving down the road or accessing popular Web


The demonstration of supposed driving skill by the weaving driver actually

reveals the driver's insensitivity and ignorance: Such driving is pointless,

careless and dangerous. Eventually, authorities catch those characters and

do us all a favor by removing them from the highway.

One of the founders of this nation once stated that a civilized society

depends on self-control exhibited by everyone in the society. That holds

true even in the Internet Age.

Online anonymity seems to be seductive to some people. The functioning of

the information highway depends on the self-control of everyone at a keyboard.

It's time for the kiddy hackers to grow up.

Powell is the Agriculture Department's Internet and intranet Webmaster.


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