Thursday, February 22, 2007

Couldn't Happen to a Nicer Guy

(ex) Judge Ronald Kline, in California, was sent to prison on child porn charges. He was brought down by what you could call a "benevolent hacker" named Brad Willman who broke into thousands of people's PCs and monitored all their activities. He was especially interested in hunting down child predators.

I point this out because, first, I am happy that Kline was caught. Here is a person in the public trust who was performing hideous crimes. I also point it out because it shows how little security there is on the 'net -- and not just the 'net, but also on telephones and text messages (Ex-Congressman Mark Foley comes to mind...). In this case, 3,000 computers were compromised, with Willman able to pretty much do what he wanted with them. I thought it was clever how he got the victims to download his "Trojan horse": He made it look like they were downloading an image from the net, but actually, he got the image from their own PC! When they downloaded the Trojan, Willman got control.

My view on hackers has been that I really don't have too many issues with hackers per se. I think we are still in the stage where we actually need hackers to probe the system and uncover the ways things can be broken. Most hackers are, really, slightly deranged hobbyists who hack because they find it a challenge. Most viruses fall into that category. When you think about it, anyone who can break into your email program and force it to send messages to all of your contacts can also permanently delete all your mail and contacts as well. Anyone who can break into your computer and make it a "zombie" that bombards Microsoft as part of a coordinated "denial of service" attack can also wipe out your entire hard drive. Most hackers tend not to do this, which means that they are really out more for fun than damage. In the case of Willman, he was hacking for a public service, and he brought down a big fish.

I guess the moral of the story is: don't do anything on your PC that you wouldn't want your mom or the IRS to see you doing!


JerL said...

It's a good thing that Kline was caught. I totally agree with your conclusion. Nothing in the world is secret.