Hackers' manners and methods
- By Vic Powell
- Jun 29, 2000
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
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.