In a progressively more connected world, the expansion of the Internet and the falling price of sensors are making it possible for everything and everyone to have an address on the web. While the benefits of this architecture are obvious, with increases in efficiency, access to information, and convenience, the risk of hacks on online systems has never been so great.
We know that in the 1980s, large company systems were already being targeted by hackers such as Ian Murphy. To reduce his telephone bill (at the time, the only way to connect to other computers was over phone lines), he hacked into AT&T’s system and changed the billing programs, making daytime rates the same as evening rates, which were cheaper. Some say that one of the characters from the 1992 movie Sneakers, directed by Phil Alden Robinson, was based on Murphy.
In June of 1990, Kevin Poulsen took control of the telephone lines at the LA radio station KIIS-FM, to ensure he would be the 102nd caller and thus win a Porsche 944. He was arrested by the FBI, sentenced to five years in jail, and banned from using computers for three years after his release. In 2005, he became an editor for Wired, the online and print magazine focusing on the impacts of technology on society.
In theory, any item that is connected to the Internet — from an ATM machine to a car, a pressure sensor to a purchase order management system — is susceptible to a hack, because there is always a digital path back to the item. In the 1996 movie Mission: Impossible (based on the American TV series that aired between 1966 and 1973), agent Ethan Hunt (played by Tom Cruise) is tasked with breaking into a building to access a computer with information so sensitive that it is not connected to any networks. The creativity and sophistication of hackers is so great that no way exists to provide an absolute guarantee of the security of anything that is connected. Spoiler alert: Hunt and his team manage to steal the information, further demonstrating our data is constantly vulnerable.
A 2007 study at the School of Engineering at the University of Maryland indicated that, at that time, computers with Internet access were being hacked on average once every 39 seconds. And this only considered as hacks the brute force attacks, where usernames and passwords are randomly tested on thousands of computers until a system can be broken into. Usernames such as root, admin, and adm, and passwords like 123456 or that match the username are still very common and present a high risk for hacking.
A 2014 report published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, founded in 1962 at Georgetown University and now a think tank, estimated that the annual cost of cybercrime reaches US$ 445 billion, with losses connected to personal information (such as credit card data) close to US$ 150 billion. Next time we will detail some of the most notorious corporate computer system breaches. See you then.