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When television and movies use information security as their storyline, they typically pass up accuracy for the sake of drama. I was pleasantly surprised when a recent episode of Covert Affairs actually got the information security content mostly right.
In the episode in question, the character Natasha plays a freelance hacker who was employed by Russian organized crime to develop malware. Natasha demonstrates a successful hack that immobilizes a communications satellite and most computer-controlled infrastructure such as phones, television, traffic lights, etc. Although the ability to create a hack that could accomplish all of these goals is a bit of a stretch, Covert Affairs got some things right.
Organized crime and freelance hackers
When I first began working in information security several years ago I was told by a co-worker that organized crime was responsible for much of the malware developed today. I was very surprised as I had not thought about how malware attacks might be funded. Organized crime does hire freelance hackers to develop malware, although the most common purpose is to aid in identity theft. Although the hack demonstrated in the episode is something you might expect to see in a cyber attack and is not as common as that developed for identity theft, there have been computer attacks on infrastructure in Estonia and Georgia, and the United States certainly attempted to paralyze the infrastructure of Iraq before Desert Storm. In 2010, the United States Cyber Command was announced.
Using computer code in a way that it’s possible to identify the author
Security experts do examine some hacks to try to determine its author, especially if its a severe attack. Check out this article in Wired Magazine “Pentagon Searches for ‘Digital DNA’ to Identify Hackers” (http://www.wired.com)
Kudos to Covert Affairs for making an effort to get the technical details correct.
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