If the WikiLeaks dump, and the subsequent cyberattacks, have made anything clear it’s this: 2010 belongs to hackers.
The Internet was originally intended for thousands of researchers, not billions of users who did not know and trust one another. The designers placed a higher priority on decentralization than on security. They never dreamed the Internet could be used for commercial purposes or that it would eventually control critical systems and undergird the world of finance. So it is not surprising that the Internet creators were comfortable with a network of networks rather than separate networks for government, finance and other sectors.
Hacking, the practice of getting your hands on computer tools, systems and documents – especially when it’s unauthorized – is nothing new: from MIT students in the 1950s to “phreakers” who manipulated telecom systems around the globe. But their impact has suddenly skyrocketed. Over the past decade, the digital medium in which hackers operate has become the single most important driver of cultural, commercial and geopolitical change in the world. And online, the limbs of everything from credit card companies to national security agencies lay far more unguarded than their real-world counterparts.
From easily obtainable cyberwarfare tools to being glorified in Stieg Larsson novels to jailbroken iPhones, hacker culture is also cycling from the underground to the mainstream.
“Hackers used to break into networks and pull classified data, but back in the day this information was kept amongst the community,” says Michael Calce, who, under the pseudonym Mafiaboy, became one of the most famous computer criminals in the world a decade ago when he managed to temporarily bring down the websites of several major companies, including Yahoo and CNN.
“Now that information is on a global pedestal. WikiLeaks is just an example, there’s going to be a lot more of this to come.”