Life in cyberspace seems to be shaping up exactly like Thomas Jefferson would have wanted:
founded on the primacy of individual liberty and a commitment to pluralism, diversity and
—Mitch Kapor, founder of LOTUS (1993)
If they were already in the dark side, they would probably not come here.
—Andrew Robinson, trainer at Tiger Team, a free after-school program that teaches teens ethical
Ethics Case: Who’s in Charge? Hacking and Cracking
It is the year 2003, and computer hacking has taken new twists. Kevin Mitnick—once labeled
“the most wanted computer criminal in U.S. history” for stealing software and altering data at the
University of Southern California, Nokia, and Sun Microsystems, among others—is starting a
business that protects companies against computer attacks. This after five years in federal prison
and three years probation, during which he was barred from using computers or the Internet.
His expertise is needed. A computer security firm based in London estimates there were some
20,000 successful hacker incidents worldwide in January alone. Costs to business are estimated
to be in the millions of dollars, although analysts have difficulty tracking losses, since most
businesses would prefer not to make them public. One technology consultant is quoted as saying,
“If people found out how astoundingly large this problem is, they’d be shocked.”
During the spring, French and American authorities together investigated a hacker suspected of
breaking into and defacing some 2,000 Web sites in France, Britain, Australia and the U.S.
During the U.S. war against Iraq he concentrated on government offices and military sites,
including the U.S. Navy, leaving messages in favor of the Palestinians or against U.S. military
policy. The chief suspect: a 17-year-old French high school student who belongs to no political
group and appears to be operating alone. Those who know him well say all he cares about is
improving his technical skills.
In a seemingly unrelated incident, more than a thousand computers around the world are
hijacked and secretly loaded with software that directs them to pornographic Web sites and fliers
soliciting porn-customers to thousands more computers. The program does no apparent harm to
the computers, and is downloaded so quickly that only the most sophisticated users are ever
likely to know their machines have been hijacked. By creating a ring of high-speed computers,
the hackers are able to send porn from just one machine at a time, making it particularly difficult
to trace. Whoever is behind the scheme—some say it’s the Russian mafia—is making money on
every customer who signs up for sexually explicit materials and is probably capable of skimming
credit card numbers.