From lost laptops to malware markets, it's time to drop the illusion that computer crime can be stopped

Dark Reading Staff, Dark Reading

August 10, 2007

2 Min Read

3:05 PM -- Can you remember when computer threats were unusual? Maybe I'm showing my age here, but I can remember when "hacking" was a new term -- a day when phone phreaks reigned and there were hardly enough email users to support a spam scam.

OK, I'm old. But my, how times have changed.

Today, hacking, threats, and computer crime are not just the norm -- they're becoming institutions. In fact, some aspects of computer chicanery have become so mainstream that they are giving birth to standard business practices -- and even cottage industries.

Laptop theft is one example. In the old days, such thefts were unusual, and many companies had no policy for handling them. But with the emergence of mandatory disclosure laws and the recent rash of laptop thefts, it's now incumbent upon enterprises to establish regular practices for locking up laptop data. (See Assume Your Laptop Will Be Stolen.)

Hacking, meanwhile, has crossed the chasm from early adoption to mainstream market. Heck, there's a whole hacker economy now, complete with buyers, sellers, advertisers, and post-sale services. We haven't reached the point of McVulnerabilities yet, but we're getting there. (See Malware: Serious Business.)

And there's a real market emerging for products that help make the jobs of security researchers -- or attackers -- easier. In recent weeks, we've seen the introduction of mainstream tools that can do everything from anonymizing the Web surfer to spying on other users. (See XeroBank Launches Anonymizing Tool Suite, New Tool Automates Spam, and FlexiSPY: Product or Trojan?)

Hacking is no longer counterculture -- it's become part of our culture. It has a set of ethics (though they are not always agreed upon) and an established economy. It's got community, commerce, and a clear path for continued growth. If there were any folks who still harbored hopes that security threats would simply go away, they have been reeducated.

The old days are over. Ah, but us old guys still have our memories.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

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