Hacker: Nothing’s really safe

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Those at the Homeland Defense Symposium got a lesson from a computer hacker.

That lesson: nothing’s really secure. Oh, and all the expensive equipment the government buys from giant corporations – hackers can make the same devices smaller and less expensively.

Jeff Moss, who has been a computer hacker since the age of 13, founded two security conferences that are regularly attended by hackers – Defcon and Black Hat. Both feature prizes for devices that confound security typically found on most computer networks, on cell phones and in GPS devices.

Hackers aren’t necessarily bad, he said. Instead, they’re people providing a service – and providing it publicly.

“We know about these security leaks because people went after to see what they could learn,” he said. “But others could easily exploit the holes for money – money changes everything.”

Moss marvels at the fact that some “black clouds” – security breaches in cloud computing – have more power behind them than most large corporations. And yet, they don’t seek to do that much damage, at least not to critical infrastructure.

“They use it to steal credit card numbers,” he said.

Of all the players in cyber space, those involved with attacking systems, hackers are the least to be concerned about, he said. Nation-states want secrets, criminals want money. But hackers, they just want information.

All these players need the Internet to work in order to reach their goals. Moss’s worry: one day someone will attack the network who doesn’t want it to survive.

“All these groups need the network to work -governments stealing secrets don’t want to destroy the internet,” he said. “I’m curious – what happens if a group comes along that doesn’t need it to be up. What happens if they don’t need the Net?”

Every part of doing business today involves using computers and the Net in ways that aren’t really secure, he said. Emails aren’t secure, and most browsers that rely on SSL to check for authentic certificates can be fooled easily.

But more is at risk than mere dollars and cents. For Moss, the greater threat is that Big Brother really is watching in some nations – and might not like what he finds.

“We’re too the point where it’s not just our money at risk anymore,” he said. “It’s our liberty. People are running governments online, creating political movements online. It’s very insecure. Technology that Nokia sold to Iran was used to track and identify dissidents. They can track you – and they can come and get you whenever they decide to.”