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Top 10 Security Stories Of 2008

A spike in data breaches, the threat of malicious hardware, and alarming revelations about the Internet's vulnerabilities from security experts such as Dan Kaminsky all made headlines in 2008.

A municipal network held hostage, the hacking of a public official's private e-mail account, court battles to gag security researchers, and dire warnings about the Internet's Domain Name System were just a few of the highlights of the IT security landscape in 2008.

10. Transit Hackers 2, Gag Orders 0

In separate but related incidents this year, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Agency and NXP Semiconductors lost court battles to gag security researchers. MBTA wanted to keep three MIT students from talking about security flaws in Boston's transit fare card system known for its "Charlie Card." NXP wanted to prevent researchers at Radboud University in the Netherlands from publishing details about security flaws in NXP's MIFARE Classic card, on which the Oyster card used by the London transit system is based.

Neither group succeeded in silencing the security researchers who identified holes in their respective systems, proof that the judicial system, often criticized for being out of step with technology, understands the value of security research. That bodes well for the future.

As Counterpane CTO and security rock star Bruce Schneier explained in an op-ed piece in The Guardian about the NXP case, "The notion that secrecy supports security is inherently flawed. Whenever you see an organization claiming that design secrecy is necessary for security -- in ID cards, in voting machines, in airport security -- it invariably means that its security is lousy and it has no choice but to hide it."

Hiding it, however, doesn't work anymore; only openness offers any real measure of security.

9. Sarah Palin's Rogue E-mail Account Hacked

Sarah Palin

In a case that highlighted the insecurity of online password recovery schemes, the risk of public officials going rogue and relying on consumer services for official communication, and the deductive power of the crowd, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin saw the contents of her Yahoo Mail account published all over the Web.

It didn't take long for Internet sleuths to link online nicknames associated with the person claiming responsibility for the breach with a suspect, 20-year-old David Kernell, son of Tennessee Democratic state Rep. Mike Kernell. Coming at a time when the contentious presidential election had yet to be decided, the compromise of Palin's e-mail account stoked partisan passions, stirring interest in the case far beyond the significance of the crime.

Kernell's trial has been pushed back from December 2008 to May 2009. The indictment against him looks shaky. In the end, he's likely to plead to a misdemeanor and face no serious punishment, apart from a hefty legal bill.

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