In a digital world, hackers are the new guerilla warriors

If something strange happens to Utterance in the next few days, it has been probably been hacked. If it can happen to a French magazine, a Mexican drug cartel and Iranian nuclear facilities, it can happen to anyone.

With so much of life, business, industry and finance heavily reliant on computer and digital processes, it make sense that groups of hackers would begin to use their skills for a cause, not just to create havoc. Some have government backing while others are loose networks of computer geniuses but either way, they are emerging as powerful new players in the world’s political, religious, criminal and even national conflicts. Consider the following three examples.

Stuxnet sabotages nuclear plants

The Stuxnet computer worm, the most sophisticated cyber weapon ever made, crippled uranium enrichment facilities across Iran last year and set the country back five years in the nuclear arms race.  The sophisticated program found its way deep into the processes of uranium enrichment in Iran, slightly increasing and decreasing the revolutions of centrifuges used to separate uranium without alerting Iranian technicians. Some of the centrifuges were destroyed before the problem was detected, setting back Iran’s nuclear program several year. Since this occurred last year, versions of the computer worm are said to have attacked other organisations and even fallen into the hands of hacking group Anonymous. Read more here, and here.

Turkish hackers target magazine

While some Muslims protested against a French satirical magazine’s depiction of Mohammad, others chose to hack it out of existence. The Paris offices of the weekly, Charlie Hebdo, were destroyed in a fire on Wednesday after it published a special Arab Spring edition with Mohammed on the cover as “guest editor” saying: “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter!” A Turkish hacker tagged Black Apple gathered a team to successfully take down the magazine’s website which remains offline. Black Apple is part of a group called Akincilar which has been responsible for several cyber-attacks against magazines and other bodies it believes were contrary to Muslim and Turkish values. Read more.

South American hackers take on drug cartel

The Latin American arm of Anonymous this week called off a plan to expose members of the Zetas, Mexico’s most violent drug cartel, when they released a kidnapped member, beaten but alive. It takes a bit to beat these violent criminal organisations and while it may be more a truce than a victory it once again shows the new power of the target cyber-attack. Anonymous said they were sick of the actions of the cartel and would expose officials caught up in their illegal activities. Read more.

While hacking, viruses and cyber attacks are not new, their use more and more as controlled warfare against targets on the basis of belief, politics, national security or criminal prosecution, reminds us that the world has irrevocably changed. Money was a strong enough motive for many hackers, as was notoriety and the feeling of power. We are yet to see what might be done in the hands of those using cyber attacks because of deeply-held convictions…

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