The trend of hacking did not start in 2015 – but every major hack further erodes the public’s trust in internet security.
The promise of secure and private communication has always been a hard one to keep.
In 1903, magician and inventor Nevil Maskelyne ‘hacked’ a new technology, called radio.
Giorgio Marconi was demonstrating the wireless, and Maskelyne hijacked the radiowaves to broadcast his own message, in Morse code: “Rats rats rats rats. There was a young fellow of Italy. Who diddled the public quite prettily.”
Marconi had assured the public his system was secure; Maskeleyne had been hired by a telegraph company to show the opposite. Marconi called the hack “scientific hooliganism”.
Public trust was destroyed by the demonstration, then slowly rebuilt – and survived through the information age.
Despite the internet being a most public platform, we generally see our interaction with it as a private one, with our computer or smartphone, and so trust it to protect their data.
This might be the year though that public trust in internet security died another death, more than 100 years after Maskelyne.
The hacking of Ashley Madison commands the attention for obvious reasons.
The number of people – 37 million – is staggering, the site’s purpose invites internet gloating, and there’s the tantalising prospect of finding-out details on people’s most personal proclivities.
But it’s one in a series of hacks, starting with Sony late last year, Adult Friend Finder, security company Hacking Team, and the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
The scale and profile of these attacks is huge. And, more worryingly perhaps, they’ve all had different motivations.
Sony was (allegedly) geopolitical revenge by North Korea; Adult Friend Finder was done for criminal lucre; Hacking Team from a sense of righteous justice, and OPM an act of cyberwar between nation states.
Each hack erodes public trust in information security. By the way, that makes calls to weaken encryption – as proposed by the UK government – even more foolhardy.
Are we just hearing more about hacks than we have in the past? I don’t think so.
The increase in these attacks is down to a specific reason. Hacking tools have been commoditised, then supercharged, thanks to the age of big data.
Simon Moores, a futurist who advises cybersecurity company Symantec, said: “Over the last few years we’ve seen a shift from vandalism and extortion towards mass data theft as the exploit toolkits available to both nation states and organised criminal gangs have become more sophisticated, automated and intelligent.”
“In fact, it’s now estimated that close to 70% of the internet’s traffic is taken-up by ‘bots’, with the single purpose of searching for exploitable weaknesses that they probe across the internet, millions of times each second.
“As the big data tools for searching and aggregating huge volumes of stolen records become cheaper and more accessible – you can even rent them from Amazon – organised criminals and even nations, are pursuing a strategy of stealing anything and everything, simply because hidden in all the noise, there is valuable information, on people, passwords, professions, secrets and money.”
This trend didn’t start in 2015, but we’re now seeing its fruits. And it’s the public who will be diddled quite prettily.