I’m feeling picked on this summer. First, my credit card was hijacked, and I spent several hours with the very kind people at the bank straightening out my account, going through statements, saying these are mine, those are not, and so on. Next, my blog was hacked, which resulted in my being blacklisted by Google. More hours spent upgrading my WordPress and testing my site. Today, while innocently looking at my Facebook StarGate page, I had a flurry of activity that ended up, in spite of up-to-date antivirus software, putting a highly malicious Trojan on my computer. Two more hours and $100 later, the nice people at Symantec gave me back a functional computer.
Who Are the Hackers?
Being ever the psychologist at heart, this led me to wonder what kind of people do these things? Where is the motivation? The reward? The credit card is pretty clear. That’s just out and out greed. The blog hack was less clear. I don’t run a commercial site, so this just seemed like a nuisance kind of attack. The Trojan seems like the far end of the continuum–no commercial gain there at all.
So I decided to look online (armed with a more expensive version of Norton) to see if people were studying hackers. One of the more interesting researchers in this area is Marc Rogers, a psychologist at the University of Manitoba. Not only does Marc trace the development of hacking from first generation hackers (respected scientists for the most part) to the most recent fourth generation (criminals and cyber-punks). I’m guessing my Trojan authors fall into the latter category.
According to Marc’s research, my hacker is likely to be male, Caucasian, somewhere between the ages of 12 and 28, from a middle class but dysfunctional family. He has poor social skills and school performance, but excels in computer technology. He’s an obsessive loner with an inferiority complex. But Marc is the first to say how little we know and how important it is to figure out who these people really are. He quotes Sun Tzu: “If you know yourself but not your enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.”
I think Marc has a point. Searching PsychInfo with the keyterm “hacker” produces surprisingly little research given the enormity of the problem. The FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center says that the average Internet crime victim loses $700. Multiply that by all of us, and we’re talking a whole lot of money. So if students out there are looking for a great topic area to study, this is a good one!