The FBI recently announced that it has cracked a major international cybercrime ring that sought to hack into computer networks, infect them with a virus, steal bank account information, and then use that information to loot bank accounts. The criminals were based in eastern Europe — which seems to be the venue of choice for computer crimes these days.
It is good to see that the FBI is having some success in the fight against cybercrime, although I imagine this particular criminal enterprise is just the tip of a very large iceberg. In our modern, world-wide financial system, where so much commerce is done electronically, computer networks are going to increasingly be the targets of criminal activities. Why try to break into a bank vault and figure out how to get away with cash, gold, or other physical objects when you can sit in the safety of your apartment in Ukraine, tap a few keys on your laptop to unload a virus to a faraway computer, and then later download files with crucial information about bank accounts worth millions of dollars while you sip your morning coffee?
Cybercrime is going to be one of those areas of criminal activity where there will be constant back and forth between criminals who develop new hacking tools and schemes and law enforcement agencies that work diligently to catch up with the latest techniques.
When I was in college, my roommate Graydon and I often referred to someone who behaved inappropriately as a “hack,” or to an ill-advised decision as a “hack move.” I thought about that phrase when I read the latest story about computer hackers, this time in connection with hacking efforts directed against Twitter and Facebook. The hackers mounted “denial of service” attacks that were simply designed to disrupt access to those popular websites.
I don’t quite get why hackers engage in such hack behavior. Some hacking is clearly self-interested criminal activity — like that involved in stealing personal information to accomplish identity theft or credit card fraud — but most hacking seems to be mindless vandalism, akin to spray-painted graffiti on park walls, smashed streetlights, and broken glass bottles on sidewalks. I suppose every vandal gets some kind of thrill from engaging in petty criminal behavior without being caught. Maybe there also is a fleeting feeling of power in destroying something, or a sense of revenge against society by an outcast, or the ability to boast of an illicit act to the limited circle the hacker is trying to impress. In any case, it seems like a computer hacker would have to be an unhappy person. Why else would anyone want to do something that achieves no purpose other than to prevent people from using a website that they think is a lot of fun?