Who are the people behind the online threats? Hackers, virus writers and internet criminals Hackers, virus writers and internet criminals – we use these terms loosely when talking about the threats we meet online, but what is the distinction between them and do they all have malicious intentions? Hackers, virus writers and internet criminals
Hackers and Crackers
When ordinary computer user hears the word “hacker”, most think of a dodgy internet criminal who breaks in to government intelligence files or steal peoples identities and credit card information. For the more tech savvy, however, the term is not just limited to people who use their ability for crime. By “hackers” they mean computer experts who can create and alter computer code and enter computer systems undetected.
Hackers can be divided into 3 head categories depending on their intentions:
• White hat hackers: non-malicious hackers, like company employees who test the security of the firm’s own computer system by trying to break into it.
• Black hat hackers/crackers: malicious hackers, also known as crackers, who hack into systems with the intent to steal or vandalize.
• Grey hat hackers: in between the white hat and the black hat hacker, grey hats sometimes act illegally. They will for example break through a system without authorization in order to put vulnerabilities on show and then charge the owner a fee to repair it.
The word “hackers” used in the computer sense appeared for the first time in 1963 in the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) paper “The Tech”. It was used to describe pranks involving technology. Members of MIT's Tech Model Railroad Club had begun working with a computer and started applying the model railroad slang to computers.
MIT became the building ground for the very first computer hackers and their experiments. In the early days, the 70’s and 80’s, the term “hacker” was used to describe a visionary programmer, passionate about coming up with new ways to use a computer – building new programs and systems. Computer company executives like Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Bill Gates were all hackers back in the day. Today, the phrase is used more about individuals who enter systems and work with code, rather than with reference to software creators.
With the emergence of the personal computer in the 80’s, young people with an interest in the new digital world started to experiment with its possibilities. One way to experiment was to create viruses - computer programs that spread from one computer to another. The intent of the virus writer in the early days was often not malicious. Many were just curious to see how far the virus would travel and they were often unaware of the potential havoc it could leave behind. As the underground computer community grew during the 80’s and 90’s, virus writing got more competitive and the viruses more malicious. It was not yet a hobby the virus writers made money off; they were in it for the challenge and community prestige.
Here on the BullGuard website you will often see the phrase “internet criminals”, as an umbrella-term covering the people we try to protect the ordinary user from today. At the turn of the millennium, internet access at home was becoming a normal commodity and with this followed new practical online possibilities like online banking and shopping. Useful as the new possibilities were, they also opened the door for a part of the underground community of hackers, virus writers etc. to take their activities to the next level and make money off their illegal hobbies. This was the case for some, while others put their abilities to good use by working for companies or governments.
The days when virus creators spread out infections with the purpose of making a name for themselves are gone. Nowadays cybercrime is better organized than ever and is becoming a multimillion dollar “business”. Moreover, the increasing popularity of social networking sites has attracted the attention of cyber criminals which exploit these in every possible way gaining significant financial benefits.
Cyber fraud caused by Internet criminals accounts for approximately 60 million pounds in UK only and it is likely to move away from home users and concentrate on companies targeting larger amounts of money.
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