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Jewish Journal

Hail to the geek

by Micah Halpern

January 25, 2012 | 10:51 am

The real heroes of our age are pencil protector geeks. They sit at home, behind their keyboards, determining the rules of the game that you and I live by—and we trust them to do so. They love toys. They love games. They enjoy battle. They are at the forefront of the cyber war that is enveloping the world.

And then there are the wannabes.

Worms. Viruses. They made headline news and were front page stories. Now come the hackers, banks, stock exchanges, airlines, private facebook pages. Nothing is sacred and nothing is safe.

Most hackers are just an inconvenience. Some of the damage they do can be serious and they must be found and punished for their actions. But the average computer pranksters are called ‘script kiddies’ by serious hackers. The reason for the term is that they only follow the directions of hacking. They use tools found on line for free. They do not buy, build or create software to hack. They hate to pay for anything. They hack for the fun of it. They often hack for the irritation they give and the glory they get from their friends. They are hacker groupies.

So far, most of the hacking that disables servers—and frightens most people with a credit card—has been nothing more than a minor inconveniences. A self proclaimed Saudi hacker called OxOmar was said to have stolen 400,000 Israeli credit cards and identification numbers. In the end it was 20,000 and he actually only gathered them from existing sites that had collected the information from merchants who have very poor security. OxOmar did not hack the Israeli banks. And getting private information on people is equivalent to hacking kindergarden, not post graduate work.

Israel’s Tel Aviv Stock Exchange web site was hacked as well as Israel national air line ELAL. Once again, a very important distinction must be made. It is the web sites that were hit, not the data banks. Yes, they should have been better protected but web sites are full of content, not data—they are not the system work that houses the sensitive material. As one analyst described it, web sites are like a bulletin board with lots of post-its. Someone just came and took down your material and put up his own insulting and graphic messages. The really important and valuable material stayed in the safe.

Script kiddie hacking is a form of vandalism akin to graffiti. There’s no thievery and no other invasion like viruses and worms, occurs.

There are professional and highly paid hackers who have the backing of industry and governments. They are the IT geeks tasked with the responsibility of developing software to access vaults. The technology they develop cost millions of dollars to develop, if not more, and enemy hackers who use them are stealing much more than credit card identities.

They real job of these professionals is to make certain that the national electric grid is safe and that the communication networks are secure.

They work quietly and behind the scenes. They are not headline grabbers like OxOmar the Saudi hacker whose stated goal is to make Israel hurt. OxOmar says that he is a hacker and this is what he knows and how he can achieve his goal. He has joined forces with a group of pro-Palestinian hackers called Nightmare and they have begun their attack.

A day does not go by when an Israeli website is not assaulted. Now Israel’s allies have also been targeted and are becoming victims of these attacks. Azerbaijan has been attacked. The material posted by these hackers on the hacked Azerbaijanian websites emphasize that Azerbaijan has chosen to be friendly with Israel and the United States. Azerbaijan has responded by saying that some people are jealous of our success. And that is exactly correct.

It was the level of amateurism displayed by their enemies that so annoyed many Israeli hackers who, under normal circumstances, would have left things be and considered these hacking episodes as nothing more than children’s games. But Nightmare and OxOmar have announced that they are unstoppable and that they can and will wreak havoc on Israel making life miserable for the Israeli society unless Israel apologizes for a slew of historical events.

Israel has to hit the hackers back. And they will hit back. The Israelis, by virtue of the situation, will take it up a notch. Israeli professionals will have to search for these anti-Israel amateurs and destroy their ability to hack. They will dismantle their systems and they must unmask them. Anonymity is what hackers need more than anything else. And then Israel will prosecute them.

There is no doubt that warfare is changing. But there is still a need to defend and to intimidate. Countries like the United States and Israel must make it clear that it is not worth the price of breaking into their computer systems.

True hacking is a game for grown-ups. True hacking save lives and saves money, it doesn’t hurt unknowing and uninvolved individuals for the sake of saying ‘Look at me, see what I can do.’

Micah D. Halpern is a columnist and a social and political commentator. His latest book is “Thugs: How History’s Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder” (Thomas Nelson).

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