It's a Hacker's World, We Just Live in it
Dear Sony: Sure, you lost 100 million user accounts, suffered a weeks-long outage, got sanctioned by your own government, and were so thoroughly humiliated that it's amazing your executives can still show their faces in public. But look at the bright side: You get to take home a pretty pink pony.
This past weekend Sony won a Pwnie ("pony") from the Black Hat security conference for "Most epic FAIL," after having been thoroughly pwned by hackers this spring. The award itself: an orange, pink, and purple unicorn.
[ Cringely offers a lesson for would-be hacktivists in "When digital protest turns into cyber crime." | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter and follow Cringely on Twitter. ]
(To be 100 percent accurate, I should note that this was not a real unicorn but a miniature representation of one. Also, to the best of my fact-checking ability this is not a hoax perpetrated by Tarandeep Gill.)
With Defcon and Black Hat running back to back in Las Vegas every August, midsummer has become high season for hackers. And hacker culture is very much becoming mainstream culture. It's a short jump from being an anonymous hacker out to pwn The Man to pulling in six figures a year as a security consultant. When the director of security research at McAfee looks like this guy, there is no longer any gap between the hacking world and the corporate one.
One of the things I love about the hacker community is that they usually have a wicked sense of humor -- hence the pretty pink ponies and those droll posts by Anonymous. I also appreciate their growing sense of social responsibility, though I'm not sure how hacking and defacing a tyrannical government's website -- as Anonymous did again with Syria this week -- does anything to bring down a government.
But the hacker community is still extremely diverse, and many of them don't know where the boundaries are -- or, rather, don't believe in boundaries. Let's face it, many of them are still teenagers who if given half a chance would crash your car and trash your house, then brag about it to their friends.
So the same week when the hackers are cracking the boundaries of mainstream culture, a group of Anons, angry at the arrest of one of their tribe, 18-year-old Jake Davis of the United Kingdom, cracked the networks of 77 U.S. police departments and uploaded 10GB worth of data to the Web. Among the information revealed by the hackers: the names and contact information of police officers and their informants (included in a file named "snitch crime tip report").
Naturally, the hackers released a statement along with the files. It read in part:
We hope that not only will dropping this info demonstrate the inherently corrupt nature of law enforcement using their own words, as well as result in possibly humiliation, firings, and possible charges against several officers, but that it will also disrupt and sabotage their ability to communicate and terrorize communities...
We have no sympathy for any of the officers or informants who may be endangered by the release of their personal information. For too long they have been using and abusing our personal information, spying on us, arresting us, beating us, and thinking that they can get away with oppressing us in secrecy. Well it's retribution time: we want them to experience just a taste of the kind of misery and suffering they inflict upon us on an everyday basis.
First: These guys think they've experienced misery and suffering when their moms take their cell phones away. Wait until they actually get caught.
Second: It's one thing to deface a website as political protest or to point out vulnerabilities in a network. It's another thing to steal data, and quite something else to put innocent people's lives at risk.
It's time for ethical hackers to break the code of omerta, step up, and denounce this kind of activity, even if that means exposing the people who did it. In other words, it's time for the hacking community to grow up.
Got an issue with hackers and crackers? Post your thoughts below or email me: email@example.com.
This article, "It's a hacker's world, we just live in it," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.