Posted by: Kathleen Mix | August 10, 2012

Hackers – Good and Bad

My book cover

My latest book

When people hear the plot of my latest book involves cyber crime and the infiltration of a top-secret Department of Defense software system, they often ask how I researched the subject.
Some of my knowledge comes from personal experience, since I have a BS degree in Computer Engineering and worked for the Navy as a software developer for several years. But basically, I’ve always been fascinated by hackers and somewhat in awe of their skills. So when I needed a crime with high stakes and a formidable villain, I went to the library for books about true-life hackers and let my imagination run wild.
Breaking into a supposedly-secure computer system is a difficult avocation and hackers are usually extremely intelligent. I wonder why these people – usually young men – do it?
Obviously profit motivates the villain in my story. After he’s successfully accessed a vital defense software system, the next step is extortion with sale of the information to our country’s enemies as the threatened result of failure to pay.
A small percentage of hackers do have malicious intent. Developing a computer worm that wipes hard drives and causes havoc satisfies some need for attention or revenge.
But what about the harmless majority, young men sitting in their bedrooms in the wee hours of the night squinting at screen after screen of information searching for a tiny glitch in a supposedly secure system? Most are not motivated by money. Maybe they like the challenge of proving nothing on the Internet is secure. Maybe a company or government institution has claimed to have iron-clad security and the hacker wants to test his or her abilities.
Whether they do it for fun or profit, they devote a lot of time to probing sites and searching for vulnerabilities. They enjoy cracking a code, breaking through a firewall, or peeking at information not meant for their eyes. Sometimes they act as a Good Samaritan and report the breach to the system’s administration as a warning that the system is flawed. But they might just leave a message in the code to show that they’ve been inside, then back out and claim bragging rights for their conquest.
As we spend more and more time online, our emails and personal information are increasingly vulnerable to hackers. They are silently roaming the Internet, creeping through government computers, and pulling tiny pranks on the unsuspecting public.
When I recently discovered that the back cover blurb on my book was misprinted, I had to wonder. A simple error by the printer, or a practical joke by a hacker who had seen the subject of the story and thought changing the blurb would be good for a laugh?

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