Monday, June 27, 2011

LulzSec, Anonymous, who will it be next?

LulzSec and Anonymous are on everyones lips these days. They've practically become a household word. It never ceases to amaze me how the media can sensationalize something to the point of making people believe something is totally new. They never came right out and said it, but from reading the articles about these guys, it would make one think that organized groups breaking into peoples systems is totally unbelievable and unheard of. The reality is, that as long as the Internet has been around, there have been organized groups of "hackers" on both sides of this battle.

Now I first have to digress about the work "hacker". Just because someone is a "hacker" does not mean they break into computers. A "hacker" is someone who likes to take things apart and see how they work. Hacking does not imply malicious intent, it describes the action of pulling something apart to see how it works, then putting it back together in a new way that changes the way the original thing worked. For example, someone who takes the engine out of a car and puts a new engine in the car and modifies the car to fit the engine is a car hacker. Mostlty the term is applied to computers, as in, "I just hacked my Playstation and got it to run Linux".

"Cracking" on the other hand is the act of breaking into something by avoiding or breaking, the security mechanisms put in place, to protect computers from unwanted intruders. There are many "Cracker" programs that are easily downloadable on the Internet, that will unencrtypt files and recover passwords. There are programs avaialble to crack the passwords on anything from the spreadsheet you password protected, to your wireless network.

Encryption is entirely dependent on the assumption that there isn't enough computing power available to try all the possible combinations in a reasonable amount of time and break the encryption. The amount of computing power over the last 10 years has increased so much, that encryption that was used 10 years ago can easily be broken by the computers of today. The problem is, that many programs still in use today use those old encryption methods that are easily breakable.

The only real way to protect yourself, from cracking type attacks, is to use the strongest encryption methods available and employ things like public and private keys. Biometrics, Key fobs and other security devices can also be employed to reduce the likliehood that your network or computer will be compromised by a cracking attack.

"Exploiting" is another method that is used in breaking into someones system. An exploit is usually a bug in the software that allows an outside attacker to run programs on the machine that has the bug. A hole for an exploit can also be caused by a mis-configuration, or more commonly lack of configuration. There are many things you can do to protect yourself from these types of attacks. First make sure your software is always up to date and configured properly, out of the box, default configurations are seldom the most secure. Second, Firewalls and Intrusion Detection software are a must if you have a network that has computers that allow connections from the outside world. I could write many articles on the different ways to secure your network, and even more articles about the different ways people can get into your network, in short, make sure you hire a computer professional, that knows more about security than anti-virus programs, but I'll get back to my main rant.

The number one reason networks are broken into, is because the people making the decisions, don't listen to the people they hire to be their experts. Being secure on the Internet is expensive and takes time. For most companies, security is an afterthought and is often overlooked for the sake of cost or time savings. In the computer business, there's an old saying: "Good, Fast, Cheap.... Pick any two".

It's kind of like taking your car to a sports stadium. Do you leave your car unlocked when you park it there? Well imagine that this parking lot has some of the most sophisticated car thiefs with all of the latest in locksmith technology and that given enough time they can break into almost any car in the lot. In this parking lot, even if you lock your car, the only thing that's protecting you is the fact that there are more cars than car thiefs. That's how it is on the Internet. When you plug your computer into the Internet, it's like parking your car in that giant parking lot and if you don't have the latest in alarms and protection, eventually, they will get around to you.

LulzSec and Anonymous are just the ones that made it in the news. There are literally thousands more like them all over the world, and anything that you have, that's plugged into the Internet is available to them to have a go at. Once in, they can get at anything that you have stored on your computer and record anything that you type. You have to remember, the Internet is a public network and as such, anyone is allowed.

So as long as people "cheap out" on security and ignore the warnings of their technology people groups like LulzSec and Anonymous will have it easy. With more and more people getting "wired", pickings for these guys are pretty fat these days. The only reason a larger numbers of people have not been broken in to, is because the bad guys just haven't got around to them yet. Thar be monsters out there, are you travelling the jungle in a rickshaw or an armored tank? If you want to continue to navigate the jungle in a rickshaw, eventually, you will become the lions dinner.

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