It’s incomprehensible to me, but the media has had a long love affair with hackers.
Of course, they don’t *always* love internet criminals - just ask any of the media organisations which had its social media accounts or email inboxes compromised by the likes of the Syrian Electronic Army.
But there’s no doubt that many in the mainstream press take the view that those who break into computer systems are just mischievous scallywags - modern day Robin Hoods who aren’t causing any serious harm.
Yesterday, for instance, CBS This Morning published a short extract of an interview it conducted with Hector Monsegur (aka “Sabu”), one of the founders of the notorious hacking group LulzSec.
Sabu, you will remember, secretly turned informant after he was collared by the FBI, and helped them identify and entrap other members of the group.
I have no problem with Monsegur helping the Feds catch more cybercriminals. That’s a good thing. And I think it was definitely sensible for him to assist the authorities, particularly as he had two young children in his care who would certainly have suffered if he had ended up behind bars for a long period of time.
But I do wish that, rather than chortling along at Monsegur’s anecdotes, the journalist had had the guts to say:
“But hang on - weren’t you being a bit of dick? Was this any way for a grown man to behave? Did you ever think about the innocent people on the internet who you were harming?”
After all, LulzSec is the group which, amongst other things, did the following:
- Published the personal email correspondence, names, phone numbers, home addresses and passwords of law enforcement officers - potentially putting them and families in danger.
- Pointlessly knocked popular online games offline through denial-of-service attacks.
- Released hundreds of thousands of email address/password combinations, potentially putting internet users’ privacy and security at risk.
- Encouraged others to break into Amazon accounts, and buy goods (of a sexual or embarrassing nature) to send to the unsuspecting victims.
- Innocent Facebook users’ accounts were hacked, and profile photos changed to those of pornographic images.
LulzSec’s own manifesto underlines that they had no qualms about the damage they could cause to innocent people:
Yes, yes, there’s always the argument that releasing everything in full is just as evil, what with accounts being stolen and abused, but welcome to 2011. This is the lulz lizard era, where we do things just because we find it entertaining. Watching someone’s Facebook picture turn into a penis and seeing their sister’s shocked response is priceless. Receiving angry emails from the man you just sent 10 dildos to because he can’t secure his Amazon password is priceless. You find it funny to watch havoc unfold, and we find it funny to cause it. We release personal data so that equally evil people can entertain us with what they do with it.
Of course, LulzSec would typically argue that it was demonstrating the poor security of organisations, and raising awareness of a deeper problem. But they never convincingly explained how a belief in improving security could sit alongside their activities of exposing the personal information of innocent individuals.
Monsegur’s cheery interview with CBS is far from the first time that one of the LulzSec hackers has cast a spell over adoring journalists. We saw similar things with Jake Davis, who - as “Topiary” - acted as LulzSec’s main spokesperson despite his lack of techie skills, and even contributed to a recent Royal Court play about the group’s antics entitled “Teh Internet is Serious Business” (sic).
Let’s stop laughing along at the antics of malicious hackers. They’re not our buddies. At the very best they’re unethical, immoral twits. And in many cases they’re no more worthy of our affection or attention than regular criminals.
I’d like to see the people who don’t take the short cut to riches of a life of crime, but instead work hard to better protect the computer systems of all of us. They’re the ones who should be lauded and interviewed on national TV.