But these days, as I discovered researching InformationWeek's upcoming security feature Machine Wars, hacking is automated.
There are many areas where expertise can be automated and made available through software. In medicine, we now have expert systems that automate aspects of the diagnostic process. So perhaps it's no surprise that hackers are releasing tools that automate attacks. But the advent of crime bots also owes something to emergence of organized gangs of cyber criminals. Experts indicate that such groups are increasingly funding the development of worms, viruses, and the like.
The arrest of members of a Russian cyber crime gang last July by the UK's National Hi-Tech Crime Unit and its counterparts in the Russian Federation represents an example of this trend. The gang is believed to have extorted hundreds of thousands of pounds from online bookmakers after crippling their servers with a denial of service attack to demonstrate the dangers of failing to pay protection money.
According to a spokesperson for the UK NHTCU, "The denial of service attacks were launched from compromised machines (ie: zombies) via a botnet."
Like John Henry in his storied race against a steam drill, IT admins are killing themselves trying to keep up.