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6/30/2009
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'Mafiaboy': Cloud Computing Will Cause Internet Security Meltdown

Notorious black-hat hacker warns that cloud-based computing will be "extremely dangerous," and explains how he got into hacking at age 15

Reformed black-hat hacker Michael Calce, better known as the 15-year-old "mafiaboy" who, in 2000, took down Websites CNN, Yahoo, E*Trade, Dell, Amazon, and eBay, says widespread adoption of cloud computing is going to make the Internet only more of a hacker haven.

"It will be the fall of the Internet as we know it," Calce said today during a Lumension Security-sponsored Webcast event. "You're basically putting everything in one little sandbox...it's going to be a lot more easy to access," he added, noting that cloud computing will be "extremely dangerous."

"This is not the last you're going to hear of this," he said.

Paul Henry, security and forensics expert for Lumension, says cloud computing, indeed, will open up new avenues of risk. "We haven't even handled the fundamentals of [securing it] in our existing environments," Henry said during an interview after the Webcast. "Now we're going to push it up to the cloud?"

Calce, who last year published a book that chronicles how he got into hacking, his infamous, massive distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack on the high-profile Websites, his arrest and ultimate guilty plea, as well as his views on the Internet's security problems, said today that the Internet is broken, and he sees the internal threat as one of the bigger problems for businesses.

"Aside from the fact that the fundamental protocols are easily manipulated...social networking and dumpster diving have been going on a long time and are still extremely effective. The scariest aspect for business owners is their own employees compromising [them]," he said. "Dumpster diving, social networking, and internal corporate sabotage will be the No. 1 threat. It's imperative that corporations take a closer look at their employees."

One thing that has definitely changed is hacking, according to Calce. It used to be most hackers were mainly "exploring technology," he said, and only a few were in it for the money. "The intellectual challenge was there. But that all evaporated. Now it's all terrorism and monetary gain," he said. "Every criminal is jumping on this bandwagon...there's less risk than robbing a bank in person. That's why they are leaning toward cybercrime."

Calce also provided some rare insight into the hacker psyche, revealing what ultimately drove him to build a "one-button botnet" that he said pioneered the mass-DDoS concept. "I tumbled down the rabbit hole and found this underground network," he explained. "You don't feel a sense of harm or that you're committing a crime [when you are] behind a computer...it's not the same effect as if you were doing bodily harm to someone, where you could see [their] reaction and get that instant sense of remorse."

The feeling that what you are doing is completely wrong is missing, he added. "You have a sense of empowerment -- that you can't be touched," Calce said. "No one shows up at your door when you press 'enter' and shut down a network."

Calce said the trouble with cloud computing and Web 2.0 is that they are about ease of use, but not about enforcing security. "The same problems are going to exist," he said. "We are moving forward with technology without fixing [previous security issues]," he said. Too many organizations still leave default passwords in place, for instance, he said.

"That's why I wrote the book -- to get the message across to hackers that they could have the same intellectual challenge" by finding security weaknesses and helping prevent them from being exploited, he said.

Calce pled guilty to 55 of 65 charges against him in 2001, and spent eight months in a juvenile group-home facility. He said he got his first taste of hacking while roaming AOL chat rooms and was knocked offline by another user. "I was astounded that someone was able cut my AOL connection...I was fueled by curiosity," he said. He then began posing as an AOL technician to social-engineer logins and passwords from AOL users.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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