H4cked Off: Dark clouds rising?

By Graeme Burton
07 Aug 2012 View Comments
Man in balaclava using laptop

In the future, we'll keep everything in the cloud, apparently. Not just embarrassing pictures, random drunken blog posts and instantly regretted Tweets, but the contents of our bank accounts, wallets, everything.

For young whipper-snappers more used to tapping a tablet than turning a page, that may be as natural as waiting in all day for the man from Tesco or Ocado to deliver the groceries.

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But it will no doubt strike fear into the hearts of those of us with a few years on the clock, a memory ill-suited to password-based authentication, and who prefer to buy our out-of-date groceries at a discount from the shop, rather than at full price from supermarkets' home delivery services.

However, a number of stories that emerged over the weekend are so far proving us sceptics right. First, newswire Reuters was hacked, not once but twice, and a series of embarrassing news stories, blog posts and Tweets blasted out to the world in the name of one of the world's most respected news services.

If it had been the Daily Express, I'm sure no-one would have noticed.

Also over the weekend, Wired journalist Mat Honan was coming to terms with the remote wiping of his iPhone, iPad and everything in his iCloud, as well as the hijacking of his personal email, Twitter and other online accounts by a hacker going by the name of "Phobia" (it's never just "Bill" or "Janet", is it?).

Some would say that it serves him right for being an Apple "fanboi", effectively putting all his data and the fate of his expensively acquired hardware into the hands of one company.

But when the journalist subsequently made contact with the hacker, he confessed he was basically only doing it for a laugh. As it happens, the hacker was actively helped by Apple customer service.

In true Kevin Mitnick-style, he'd actually phoned customer service pretending to be Honan and, even though he could not answer the "secret questions", the customer service staff still handed over a temporary password, effectively handing the hacker the keys to Honan's life.

That's service American-style – the customer service rep' no doubt even bid the hacker to "have a nice day".

Back in the 1990s, that sort of thing would have brought the full weight of the FBI's top donut-chompers down on top of the miscreant, with similar zeal to the way in which it pursued Mitnick, resulting in a year or more in chokey. Indeed, Mitnick spent five years in prison for crimes that are almost piffling in comparison. 

Today, people's bank accounts are routinely attacked by cyber criminals, and even corporate payment runs are being targeted by sophisticated crime rings. Some security professionals, such as Brian Krebs, recommend that companies conduct their online financial transactions solely on Linux – not Windows – from a Live CD or DVD booted up solely for that purpose.

Perhaps people will wake up when their "Google Wallets" are equally easily compromised and Starbucks' sales crash because no-one can afford to buy an overpriced (and, frankly, mediocre) latte?

Doubtless though, sometime soon the technology will emerge that will make it all completely and totally 99.9 per cent safe – meaning that out of 60 million people in the UK, only 60,000 people will have their entire lives wiped out.

That'll keep the Daily Mail website in business, if nothing else.

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