I always like to think of myself as one of the earliest hackers. Back in 1975, my buddies and I in high school developed a program to steal the passwords of other high schools that enabled them to log onto the server at the local science center.
Back in those days, it was all chunka-chunka Telex paper print outs, programs stored on punch tape, no crt's, and the servers ran on the high-speed spinning tape drives you see in old movies. Our program had to be manually loaded into each high school's computer as it was online. Labor intensive, but it worked.
Of course, programming and the internet have raced past me at light speed now. I'm barely able to do basic html scripting. But others, well . . .
In a Wall Street Journal article recently, Jennifer Valentino-Devries and Danny Yadron bring to light some pretty alarming developments in hacking technology and exactly who is using them.
The FBI not only employs hackers, but outsources to private companies creating hacking software to gain the upper hand in the surveillance of suspects who've gone off the grid, so to speak. They currently have software that can remotely activate the microphones on Android powered cell phones so that they can record conversations. Apparently they can also do the same to certain laptops. So that bit in the second Batman movie wasn't exactly fantasy after all.
One such private supplier of this software, the UK based Gamma International supplies what they call "0 day exploits" -- spyware that exploits holes in software the providers don't know about yet, such as Internet Explorer.
Google, the creator of Android, and Microsoft obviously won't comment on the possible vulnerability of their software. But you don't have to be a genius to realize that the more complex the software, the easier it is to find a chink in the armor that hopefully protects it. Apple's proprietary software protected it initially, but even they are now vulnerable as they expand their compatibility to other systems.
All this comes as a disturbing addendum to the data mining by the NSA. Like most, I'm torn where to come down on that business. We want to be able to track terrorists and criminals, but we also want our privacy protected. At the moment, there doesn't seem to be a way to do both. As we've seen with the current scandals in Washington, trusting government to do the right thing is kinda hard these days. We have a President using supposedly independent agencies like the IRS to target his political enemies and a supposedly independent press giving him cover for it. How can we trust these people to do the right thing with our private information?
It has been pointed out frequently that the very freedoms that make this the greatest country on Earth, also make us vulnerable to those with bad intentions toward us. We shouldn't have to worry about those we charge with protecting us as well.