When I was growing up in the 80s home computers were very new to people and so was the concept of hacking. I remember relatives and friends worrying about plugging in their computers into the wall because they might get hacked. They assumed that hackers could get in over the electrical cord. To me at the time it was prosperous and silly and I would have to explain then why they had nothing to worry about. Of course now people are educated and have a better idea of how computers work, though hacking as a problem never went away. (Though the electrical cord hacking now could be possible since there are proposed techniques of routing internet over power lines).
The media, both news outlets and entertainment, I always felt was to blame as they usually showed hacking in some easy to follow way that would sell well either on a big movie screen or when described in a newspaper. For the record there has only been one relatively accurate example of hacking in a movie and it went to The Matrix Reloaded when trinity uses an ssh exploit to gain access to a machine so that the grid of the city can be shut down. It is a blink and you miss it moment.
In the world of computers there are two types of problem hackers,
- Crackers who are highly intelligent and figure out more and inventive ways to break into machines and do malicious damage. There are not many people like this but they can be very dangerous if they get influenced and pointed in the wrong direction.
- Script kiddies who are fairly so-so computer users that get there hands on hacking techniques that are floating are the dark fringes of the internet, usually in script form. There are a lot more of these guys than crackers and while they cause damage, they in the main more of a nuisance and provide a level of noise that can make finding the problem crackers harder.
The problem in the media is that they don’t generally make a distinction between crackers and script kiddies and all hacking events are given the same level of gavitas.
I can’t help feeling that the recent spate of terrorist events in London, Glasgow and New York are merely script kiddie terrorists. Don’t get me wrong they were of sufficient lethalness that there could have been serious injury and loss of life. However they were failures and as investigations have proceeded they appear more and more like they have been handed down from from “Terrorism for Dummies” handbook. The media though have hyped up the events, I took particular exception to the coverage of the New York JFK plot. There the terrorist were planning to blow up a fuel stage container and hope it would cause a chain reaction and blow up the airport. One quote from U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf was that it was “one of the most chilling plots imaginable,” and could have have caused “unthinkable” devastation (It was subsequently debunked by security expert Bruce Schneier who argued that the plot was never operational).
The media need to get off there “if it bleed, it leads” mantra and become part of the productive community and educate people as well as inform. The two London car bombs were found before they exploded due to the the education of the emergency services (The sharp eyed paramedic noticing something hinky about a car nearby and reporting it getting special notice.) Also as noted previously the JFK plot was never even close to being operational, been shut down by an effective intelligence operation by the Americans. The cracker terrorist are always going to be a problem unfortunately, there are some amazingly smart people in the world that just really don’t like us no matter what we do. Let’s hope however effective intelligence can catch the script kiddie terrorist while they are only annoying and before they move onto lethal.