People’s perception of cyber hackers is often shaped by popular books or movies, which provide a simplistic view of their demeanor and motives. The reality of their demeanor and motives tends to be much more nuanced and complicated than good versus evil.
One of the most famous hacker fiction writers is Neal Stephenson, who has written numerous hacker fiction thrillers, including “Cryptonomical.” This book focuses on hacker characters that are Allied codebreakers during World War II based at Bletchley Park in Britain.
Another famous fictional hacker portrayal is the 2011 movie, “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, “by Swedish writer Stieg Larson. The hackers are portrayed as brilliant and completely dysfunctional individuals with the technical capabilities to access private information that can assist them in capturing their adversary.
Bruce Schneider’s book, “A Hacker’s Mind,” explores the true nature of hacking and debunks the common stereotype depictions perpetuated in popular culture. Rather than portraying hackers as criminal masterminds or malicious individuals, Schneider defines hacking as providing wealthy individuals with the use of technology to exploit vulnerabilities in the current economic system. Therefore, this hacking process will give these individuals an advantage in gaining wealth.
Through numerous case studies and real-world examples, Schneider shows that hackers may be wealthy entrepreneurs that use their knowledge and computer skills to gain a considerable advantage to amass vast amounts of wealth through hacks. For example, ATM, sports, and financial Hacks are the most pernicious.
One of the examples mentioned in “A Hacker’s Mind” is the story of the Goldman Sachs incident from 2010 to 2014. During that period, the company unloaded aluminum at various warehouses to speed up the delivery of the products and maximize profits. They purposely created bottlenecks in the delivery process, forcing customers to pay more to acquire the product. The incident was considered a sophisticated hack because it involved manipulating the supply chain to maximize its profit.
Another example mentioned in this book involves the use of sophisticated financial manipulation of the United States financial system by venture capital and private equity firms. These firms use complex financial strategies to invest in their companies, often at the expense of the stakeholders. This manipulation is a form of hacking because it involves exploiting vulnerabilities in the financial system to achieve a desired outcome.
During my 25 years as a senior cyber analyst, there are certain underlying operational assumptions that you could adhere to when responding to the hacking of a computer system.
First, the hacker, whether an individual or a nation-state, exploits a vulnerability in the hardware or software of the network system.
Second, indicators of common attack (IOC) are critical in identifying the type of attack and the attacker’s tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs). Identifying the attacker’s exploit is essential in understanding the attack vector and the attacker’s motivation. This could involve examining malware, examining network traffic, and analyzing system logs.
Third, it is crucial to understand the motivation of the hacker. Hackers may be motivated by financial gain, political or social ideology, espionage, or the challenge of compromising the network. Understanding the attacker’s motivation can help determine the potential targets, methods of attack, and possible mitigation.
Fourth, it is essential to have a comprehensive incident response plan before an attack occurs. This plan should include procedures for identifying, containing, and eradicating the attack, as well as strategies for notifying affected parties, including customers and law enforcement.
Fifth, maintaining strong cybersecurity measures such as regular software updates, strong passwords, and network segmentation can help to prevent successful attacks or limit their impact.
Schneider’s book is interesting and provocative because it questions the traditional profile of a hacker and expands the typical actor role definition for cyber attacks.
The portrayal of hackers in popular culture is often simplistic. It does not accurately represent hackers’ complex motivations and behaviors. Understanding the operational assumptions and strategies of cyber adversaries can help identify and mitigate cyber attacks. It is important to stay vigilant and maintain strong cybersecurity measures to protect against potential attacks.
Glenn Fiedelholtz was a senior cyber threat analyst for the federal government for 25 years. In addition, he worked for Raytheon and Northern Grumman Corporation as a cyber security analyst. He published the Cyber Security Network Guide textbook and many scholarly articles concerning different cyber security topics.
Great article Glenn. Look forward to future articles about cyber security.
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