2012 YEARENDER: The year of the hacker

Victor Barreiro Jr.

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The fabric of 2012 is filled with tales of hackers and attacks. Let's take a closer look at some of the threads that have been bound together in 2012

A HACKER'S YEAR. 2012 was a year for hacking to make inroads into the public's Internet-savvy consciousness.

MANILA, Philippines – The growth of the Internet has also resulted in the inclusion of hacking as part of the world’s common threats. Not only do users have to worry about their physical safety: they also have to worry about their data being compromised by the unscrupulous.

Woven in the fabric of hacking stories of 2012 is an interesting thread: the rise of the hacktivist as a sort of antihero. Perhaps, as the movies would put it, the online activist is not the hero we deserve, but the hero we needed for the Internet age.

This is a story about the hackers: those that bring us down for profit or malice and those who hack to hope for better tomorrows.

THE MACHINE LIES. Hacks can happen even on the safest-looking sites if one isn't careful. Screen shot from http://philippeharewood.com

Cybercriminal activities

2012 saw certain trends in cybercriminal activity emerging. According to Kaspersky’s Security Bulletin for 2012, the overall statistics appeared to indicate the spread of malicious program development on 99% of Android operating systems.

Furthermore, the big picture of web threats around the world shows the growth of the illegal industry of hacking. Kaspersky’s report reveals Russia as both a high-risk area for Internet use and a growing home for cybercriminal schemes. Also notable in the report is the rise of Tajikistan from 17th to second place in rankings, and the drop of the United States from 3rd to 19th place due to the work done in the country to combat cybercrime.

The world of hacking isn’t limited to grand cybercriminal endeavors however. Hackers managed to acquire 12 million Apple IDs though the source of the actual IDs is suspect, and hacks with an element of social maneuvering have made their way onto Facebook.

Like the Sony cyberattack and the Yahoo password theft fiascos, the malice also comes with a reminder: everyone has to hold vigil over their data to maintain its integrity against attack.

The hacktivist at work

One element of the hacking community that has gathered steam is the hacking of websites and acquisition of information to make a statement against the status quo. As some have called it, “hacktivism” is the newest way of giving a voice to people, allowing members of the global community to weigh in on concerns beyond their immediate spheres.

In the Philippines, hacktivism currently tends to be a proof of concept. It is a show that tells the government to invest in better security for their online activities, such as when hackers added hidden pages to a number of government sites.

Hacking can also be a show of force with rather nasty consequences. This was made rather clear when hackers attacked emergency management sites of the Philippine government to protest the cybercrime law, which has now been restrained.

INTERNET WARRIORS. Making a statement through hacks and disseminating information is growing more commonplace.

Hacktivists as antiheroes

Talking about hacktivism, however, cannot be complete without a mention of the now-infamous individuals who are part of Anonymous.

Anonymous performs hackings on sites as a form of civil disobedience and a means to bring attention to issues pertaining to the openness of information and freedom of expression in the digital age.

November 5, Guy Fawkes Day, has also become a special day for Anonymous, as they’ve taken the day to go on a worldwide hacking spree and invite people to protest in various cities.

While some of the hackings, such as the Paypal hack, were later believed to be done on the same day yet not connected to Anonymous, the group has become an instigator of some rather chaotic doings.

More recently, hacktivist groups like Anonymous and Telecomix also maintained efforts to allow those in Gaza to remain connected to the world by providing downloadable care packages with first aid guides and information on maintaining Internet or Twitter connectivity in the event of a telecoms cut-off. With most of the attention on Anonymous, however, conservative and pro-Israeli groups tried to turn public opinion against them.

Anonymous, however, countered with its own statement by making it clear that their intent was “to protect the rights of Palestinian people who are threatened with silence.” Moreover, the antiheroic sentiment was solidified when they wrote that Anonymous did “not racially or geographically differentiate between victims of violence or oppression anywhere in the world.”

ARE YOU NEXT? As hackings become more prevalent in reporting, now is the time to be more vigilant against attacks and mindful of the issues online.

The future in hacking

What’s the future when it comes to hacking? That depends on where you look.

With China set to implement stricter policies on Internet use, requiring Internet users in the nation to provide real-name identification, the stage seems to be set for a clash to occur between hackers and activist groups against the Chinese government.

In the Philippine context, we’ve also questioned how biometric information can be compromised with a number of potential trouble areas available for exploitation. While the elections that will require biometric registrations will only happen in 2016, we may see repercussions of the adoption of such technology in elections to make themselves known if hacks are attempted on existing technologies adopted here or in other countries.

With online security becoming a growing issue, there’s a good chance we’ll see more cybersecurity and hacking stories on Rappler whether we want to or not. The question readers will want to ask themselves is what they’re willing to do to ensure they don’t become a part of such stories in the future. – Rappler.com

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Victor Barreiro Jr.

Victor Barreiro Jr is part of Rappler's Central Desk. An avid patron of role-playing games and science fiction and fantasy shows, he also yearns to do good in the world, and hopes his work with Rappler helps to increase the good that's out there.