Truth Glasses: Anonymous, Hacking Crimes. and Internet Systems

This is the de-facto flag of the organization ...Image via Wikipedia

Opinion and Strong Review – Anonymous and their crimes of hackingIncludes a Video 
            Mega-upload, the FBI, police departments in New York and various other sites have captured our minds in recent news stories.  A group of individuals, who are acting on behalf of citizens, in the name of justice and what is right, have done the above and more.  In a world where we are seeing many uprisings, overthrowing and protests, we are also seeing a debate over what is fair in the laws and when those laws don’t fit or are clouded by sensationalized media, the hype and disgust grows.  Thinking a moment about what we are allowing and not allowing will help in one context, but instead, we are putting on our truth glasses so we can understand what is potentially going on when sites are being shut down.  Pull up your thinking chair and let’s look into the world of anonymous control and hacking.

Anonymous with Guy Fawkes masks at Scientology...Image via Wikipedia            In other articles concerning computer safety that have been featured here in Criminology & Justice, we have spoken of how to use secure sockets, what to look for in phishing scams, firewalls and anti-virus importance.  With the growing hype behind the group anonymous, this author decided to try and explain some of the things that might be applied, which in turn should help to reduce the perceived power they have and may teach us along the way.  I am all for laws that protect our citizen’s right to surf the internet freely, meaning free from harm and the predators who may want to intrude my family’s lives, through digital means.  These predators are not limited to the type of people that have sexual offenders luring children into relationships not meant for more than sex, they are in fact hackers than are trying to steal your personal information and while we might find it fascinating that it can be done to sites such as the FBI or Justice Bureaus, it is in fact a criminal act under laws that our nation wrote in order to protect our interests.

            If our interests were violated and could be used to exploit our bad credit history or point fingers at the stranger living in the house down the street, two different sets of thoughts would occur.  One, a personal right being violated and the other the rights of the community, but which are more important?  In this respect, let’s take a look at the data that was stolen from the police department in New York.  Not only was the site shut down, but the prison records of a good amount of inmates just landed in the hands of people we cannot see, but enjoy (or not) seeing the end result, an embarrassment to the police who are managing those records.  This does not include the inmates who may only have a minor violation and don’t want their stuff seen and yes, it does violate their rights even if in prison or jail.  If we think critically in this way, we can see that a group who is “for justice” is in fact committing crimes themselves and two wrongs do not make a right, no matter who it benefits.
English: Chase Bank branch (Athens, Ohio, USA)Image via Wikipedia
            Now that we have a taste for the potential of the crime going on, we need to fix situations like this so that being hacked becomes much more difficult and yes, in case of doubt of how important security is, we will not mention what happened to Sony’s network aside from the Chase Bank threat issued.  First, how are multiple attacks being launched and where are they coming from?  Hackers have a unique set of applications or programs that are used to acquire access to your computer and do not necessarily have to be at their own home to do so.  In our vast technology filled world, most items have become wireless. Wireless mouse, keyboards and internet are usually available at a wide variety of locations, including McDonald’s and so long as the hacker has internet access, they can execute their task at hand.  Once a hacker has control over a computer, they can turn it into a “zombie”.  No we are not talking about a video game, but using your computer to perform varied items. 

            The term, Zombie, in computing means: A computer that is controlled by a hacker who uses it to launch attacks on other computer systems.  These computers are usually used to launch a “Denial of Services” attack on another computer.  In a DDoS style attack, the zombie computer is used to launch requests of a particular website so often that even legitimate users cannot access their sites.  All computers can only handle a set amount of information and once it is full of requests for that information, it rejects all others, even the non legit ones, kind of like an internet busy signal.  The unsuspecting owner of the zombie computer may not know that this has happened and one way that could be used to prevent it, place a secure password on any router, wireless or not and make sure all your data is encrypted before sending it out.
Anonymous protestAnonymous protest (Photo credit: Ludovic Hirlimann)
            Without the password being set, our said hacker can “piggyback” off of your signal, hack your computer, get sensitive information and then, send out attacks at another computer that if it is traced, makes the innocent a victim and a suspect all at the same time.  If it were only a singular computer being used, the hacker could be traced easily, however, most hackers distribute from hundreds if not thousands of zombie computers to do their dirty work.  A savvy computer programmer could easily build software that allows this to take place from one or two single “base” computers.  This is due in part to the “logical ports” built in to your computer.  Each time we send out a request that uses the HTTP protocol, it uses logical port 80 which is code for the internet.

            Logical ports are gateways where data is moved and shared over the internet and each logical port has its own function.  These ports you cannot touch but can see in your computer’s settings and are not the same ports like your USB or External Monitor Jack.  As mentioned above, port 80 is standard logical port for HTTP, or when your browser sends a request to a web page.  Email messages sent by simple mail protocol, use port 25 and if any ports are open, just like in your home when the windows are open, you are subject to intrusion.  The natural combatant for this measure is a firewall, but not all are perfectly secure, no matter who provides them, a good hacker might take the extra time to unlock it, if they think the payoff will be large enough. 

            Knowing that if a port is open, it means access to a computer and unless the hacker is brute force hacking (entering in everything manually), the process can be quick in overtaking your computer. Common ports are: 21 for FTP, 23 for Telnet, 25 for Simple mail (email), 53 for Domain Name Systems (DNS), 80 for HTTP and 443 for HTTPS (the S is for Secure Socket Connection). If you are unsure if your computer is safe, install a firewall on your computer and you can also add a firewall to the router separately, thus doubling your protection from unwanted eyes.  In the case of the police department where the records were stolen, at some point a port opened that allowed the hacker to gain access and eventual control over the system, do a quick data dump and then “ping” the system into shut down or launch a virus that cannot be controlled by the original administrator of the computer’s operating system.  The end result, a crash and reinstall or total reset of the system, including any data that is backed up and then back into action.  Anonymous, most likely is using these very tactics in obtaining all that information.

            Moving forward in our search for truth and the hidden dangers, what we see is a general lack of security on the owner of the systems and the crime of hacking taking place. This is in part to the type of business that is being attacked, banks would naturally have ports open to transact business, gaming sites would as well for new players entering the arena, once those ports are accessed, it is up to the new controller as to what happens next.  The greatest argument among hackers is, whether or not what they are doing is a criminal act or act of improving or exploiting the flaws of a system, basically they are improving or destroying.  There are several titles they carry, but only recognized into two groups.

            A hacker who breaks into systems just for the challenge or thrill of it and do not want to steal any of the information or cause harm, will generally refer to themselves as a “white-hat” hacker.  They see their purpose as one to become an expert in a society of needful people who want their stuff protected from predators, a common good.  The other type of hacker is known as a “Black Hat” hacker and oddly enough, white hat hackers tend to look down upon their counterparts.  A black hat hacker will use their new found knowledge to destroy lives of people and hold no regard to innocent bystanders that happen to be within a system of what they see as corrupt or needed to gain leverage over their victim.  In the case where anonymous is using the threat of releasing the information to the public, this would be considered the black hat type, a more villainous approach.  The group anonymous uses a tactic much like the ring leaders of the group al-Qaeda started, by releasing videos, the difference, no “real” person is talking.
            A strong argument could be stated that by definition of the FBI:

FBI-NYPD Joint Terrorist Task ForceImage via Wikipedia
 Terrorism is defined in the Code of Federal Regulations as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” (28 C.F.R. Section 0.85). 

The FBI divides this into two categories, Domestic Terrorism and International Terrorism, for the purposes of this article we will focus on Domestic which states:

Domestic terrorism is the unlawful use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States or Puerto Rico without foreign direction committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives.

In the case of our focus, the groups anonymous are by definition of federal law, committing a federal crime, yet quite a few citizens are supporting this type of behavior, in the name of “justice”. If we learned that some foreign country stole our nuclear bomb blueprints and was to use it to destroy your area specifically, wouldn’t you also want laws and devices in place to prevent that from happening? This author thinks the majority of our citizens would most assuredly support keeping that type of device out of sinister or not so friendly hands, which is why we need items like PIPA and SOPA to be debated, shaped and put into law. In the case where anonymous is attacking banks, justice sites, police departments, video sites or any other site that they obtain information and continue to issue the threats of “expect us, we are legion” yes, it is a crime and yes they should be held accountable, what is sad in this situation, not only are the guilty exploited as well as the innocent, a cyber entity has more threat power than our own congress has law power.

In all our daily lives, we have grown adept to the validity of video and our entity at anonymous is no stranger to using that to influence its path along to “victory for the people”. The magic of technology has brought us from cameras that take a week to develop photographs, to phones that can video tape anything for a short period of time. First we will look at the background image of the anonymous logo, a very good artist rendition indeed and enhances the “faceless” power as well, the question mark, similar to the one used in the Riddler on Batman episodes, conveniently placed above a headless torso. This author became very curious as to how this phenomenon could be achieved. First, I took a photo (provided by the internet guru’s on Google’s image search) of two different types of anonymous logo’s. I then opened my windows movie maker, placed the photo in the project template, then, using text to speech software, began to type a rather lengthy text of items, after accomplishing a thorough finger work out, I pressed save and played back my text in the nicest feminine voice available. Realizing that some words had to be pronounced out in order to sound realistic, some adjustments were made and then applied to the photograph, fit audio to picture and viola a nice 5 minute video was born of my “fake” anonymous message.

Once achieving this great task I knew I must share this treasure with our readers who happen to keep their truth glasses handy. Let me repeat the process, find picture, make audio, add to picture, get video message with an “anonymous” voice and no face to pin the guilt of the pending crime to come upon. Combining this knowledge with the knowledge of what zombie computers can do and how many can actually be controlled, I sat in amazement of the possibility that hundreds of innocent citizens may be at risk of arrest at the hands of only a few members of the entity known as “anonymous”. Just on the control of the computers alone and not including the innocent ones located in those data bases and once the realization of the total impact of what this group has done sets in, I am sure our readers will fling their truth glasses across the room in disgust of this new found possibility of the hero’s of the “oppressed from corruption”.

I have done a lot of research in this article, simple to complex, erroneous to exact and have learned many new video and audio skills, learned how to recognize when my security isn’t very secure, learned that yes the government might be on to something when they issues protection laws and refreshed my mind from a text I received in computer class. All of these items beg the question, is anonymous a champion for the people or a new more complex face of our evolving technology and the power it may possess and if neither, should we regard them as terrorists or criminals. The answer will be affected by the people whose information they now own, some will say, “lock them all up”, some will say, “leave them alone”, this author says if you want to stay safe, secure your stuff and put on your truth glasses to decide for yourself based on what the law says. Politics are politics, businesses may be corrupt, but the law is the law and cannot be deviated once in print. Truth glasses down.

References, Further interesting Reading:

Data on hackers, definitions and zombie styles retrieved from: Technology in Action, 7th Edition, Chapter 9, pages 402-439, 2011 as well as the following:        

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