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9/23/2008
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'Profiler' Hacks Global Hacker Culture

Former notorious Italian hacker releases initial results of research identifying different types of hackers and their behaviors on and offline

A hacker once called the Italian Kevin Mitnick has spent the past two years surveying various types of hackers from around the world to profile the hacker culture -- all in an effort to help combat cyber crime. Raoul Chiesa, a reformed black-hat hacker who in his heyday was a notorious social engineer and X.25 hacker, is about to publish the first fruits of research from the so-called Hackers Profiling Project he launched nearly two years ago. (See Hacker Profiling Stirs Controversy.)

Chiesa and his team are building a database for classifying different types of hackers, based on a survey of over 1,000 hackers from around the world and face-to-face meetings with others. The ultimate goal of the project is to help prevent cyber crime gaining a better understanding of different types of criminal hackers, their movements, and the types of attacks they perform, as well as their possible ties to organized crime activity and cyber terrorism.

“The results show that hackers are different. People... can’t keep on just saying ‘oh, we’ve got an hacker, we’re scared by hackers.’ There are so many typologies of hackers, especially if we consider why they do it and how they do it,” says Chiesa, director of communications the Institute for Security and Open Methodologies (ISECOM), which is spearheading the project. The goal is to get closer to the criminal mind behind the hack so organizations can better respond to an attack. ISECOM envisions a methodology where you can identify the type of attacker who hit you based on forensic data that correlates with his or her profile.

Chiesa gave an update on the project at the closed-door ISOI5 summit earlier this month in Estonia. The project includes detailed psychological profiles of script kiddies, crackers, and mercenaries, for example, and eventually will correlate honeynet data with the various hacker profiles to match behaviors and methodologies. It looks at how different hackers live offline as well as online, and whether you can determine a hacker's profile based on his behavior or types of intrusion techniques. “I’m thinking about building a honeypot in order to act like a fake e-banking system, [or] a government Web site,” Chiesa says.

“Profiling hackers is good... It will help to break some myths and preconception that the society and law enforcement agencies have on cyber criminals. Not all of them are anti-social and live in their parents’ basement,” says Pierre-Marc Bureau, senior malware researcher for Eset, who attended Chiesa’s presentation at ISOI 5. “A lot of cyber criminals are professional people using their skills for financial gain without consideration of laws. Having a better understanding of the hacking culture will definitely help in some law enforcement investigations.”

Although the HPP is only halfway complete, its early data is already being adopted. Chiesa says one company that wanted to move its IT headquarters to Romania asked ISECOM to analyze the Romanian hacking scene so it could determine the risk of the move. And the United Nations Interregional Crime & justice Research Institute is using the HPP data for studying new threats, he says.

But some security experts have questioned whether it’s truly possible to reach the bad guys and get accurate information from them to actually profile them. It’s not the same as tracking DNA evidence matching a killer to a crime scene, one security expert noted.

Chiesa admits he and his team were worried at first that they wouldn’t get enough accurate data from the respondents. “For sure, we were scared that only the fake ones were interested in answering us. Also, we were worried about obtaining answers from guys claiming to be someone they were not,” he says. “That’s why the whole Hackers Profiling Project was carried out by psychologists, criminology researchers, and infosec people... That’s why we began to travel all around the world, meeting hackers, talking with hackers, socializing. This helped us to fill the missing pieces.”

The resulting database for correlating attacks and hackers will be available as a GNU Free Documentation License. Meanwhile, Chiesa, along with criminologist Silvio Ciappi and UNICRI criminologist and cybercrime expert Stefania Ducci, will publish the book Profiling Hackers: The Science of Criminal Profiling as Applied to the World of Hacking in November, detailing the findings of the project thus far.

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Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. 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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