The Farmer File: Hackers: High noon in your hard drive

DON FARMER

You know that in the world of cyberspace, hacking is a big deal, a major problem when America’s National Security Agency runs a website called CryptoKids.

It’s a cartoon-centric effort to make “good” hacking cool, according to wire service reports.

Confused yet? Wonder why one of our top agencies dedicated to protecting our most important national secrets and uncovering those of our adversaries is offering animated heroes, Cy and Cyndi, breaking codes and other cool stuff?

Obviously it’s because hacking is big business now. I’ll bet there are more accomplished hackers in America, the good and the evil, than there are master plumbers or mediocre columnists.

All this comes to our attention with the rash of news stories about bad hackers, from China to Chattanooga and back, who break into mega-corporations’ records and government files. We get why spies do it, but what about the usually young, often brilliant, sometimes troubled and always digitally dexterous people who do it night and day?

We turned to our friend and cyber-skilled wizard, Patrick Junkroski, an expert on all things Apple, a partner and consultant at Naples-based Technology Pros (www.mytechnologypros.com). Our question: Why do hackers hack?

“It’s a point of pride for some of them. Many are trying to show points of weakness. There’s white hat hacking and black hat hacking,” he says. “Regular hackers are just trying to cause chaos because they can. They think it’s a challenge; it’s like a game to them and they won the game.

“White hat hackers, and there are many of them who have worked with or near Apple for many years, also try to find and exploit weaknesses, but they send that weakness information to Apple and say, ‘Here, this is a problem.’ If Apple responds, then it’s taken care of. If Apple doesn’t respond, those white hat hackers will say to the public, ‘I’ve reported this. It’s a weakness.’ And they’ll make it public. They are trying to do good in the long run,” Junkroski continued. “Yet other hackers are just bad people, like someone who robs a bank or beats up somebody for their money.”

Apparently a lot of kids now find themselves listening to the devil sitting on their right shoulder as well as the angel on their left as they delve into the weird world of hacking and hackism. (I know, I know, fable puts the devil on the left shoulder. But I’m left-handed and this is my column, not some first century historian’s).

Defcon, the world’s biggest organization of hackers, and its offspring Defcon Kids, will gather in Las Vegas next month. Defcon Kids’ goal is to keep America’s youngsters among the white hats as they enter hacker-world.

Ironically, many Apple/Mac users long have felt invulnerable to hackers. They shouldn’t, Junkroski says.

“They used to say, ‘security through obscurity,’ in times past when hackers weren’t aiming at Apple’s minority place in the market. But Apple’s been a target for several years because of its growth and popularity. It’s still a very, very secure operating system. Apple has been extraordinarily proactive in tightening the security of these devices as it has grown the product line,” he said. “Is their day coming? Of course it is. But, they, Apple, have a track record that isn’t comparable to anybody else.”

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Don Farmer is a former ABC News correspondent and bureau chief and CNN news anchor. He can be reached at don@donfarmer.com.

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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