The rise of the in­ter­net has trans­formed hack­ing into an op­por­tu­nity for crime, ac­tivism and po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence. So who are the hack­ers and can they be stopped?

BBC Earth (Asia) - - Front Page - Words: chris hall

The last few months have been busy for Euro­pean pol­i­tics, with Aus­tria, the Nether­lands, France and the UK all head­ing to the polls. Each one of these elec­tions was pre­ceded by fears that hos­tile pow­ers, act­ing on­line, would seek to ma­nip­u­late the out­come of the elec­tions. These fears came clos­est to be­ing re­alised in France, where even­tual win­ner Em­manuel Macron and his En Marche! party were vic­tim to a 9GB leak of emails, just 48 hours be­fore the vot­ing took place. Things are lit­tle dif­fer­ent across the At­lantic, with four leg­isla­tive committees, as well as the FBI, in­ves­ti­gat­ing al­leged Rus­sian in­flu­ence over the US elec­tion, in­clud­ing the hack­ing of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s emails. In the UK, hack­ing was in the news when the Wan­naCry ran­somware worm crip­pled com­puter sys­tems in 40 NHS hos­pi­tals in May. In the wake of each at­tack, politi­cians spoke ur­gently of a need to ‘reg­u­late’ the in­ter­net. Across the West, democ­racy and free­dom are un­der sus­tained at­tack, and at the heart of the bat­tle is our grasp on tech­nol­ogy.

Maybe that sounds like hy­per­bole, or even the stuff of a movie trailer. Well, con­sider this: the av­er­age per­son in the UK spends 25 hours a week on­line and has be­tween 27 and 40 on­line ac­counts. There are set to be 8.4 bil­lion con­nected de­vices in the world by the end of this year – 20 bil­lion by 2020 – and last year in the US alone there were more than 1,000 recorded data breaches. Hack­ing isn’t just about pinch­ing pass­words any more: the geeks have truly in­her­ited the Earth.

“There’s no ques­tion that there is more mal­ware now than there has ever been,” says David Emms, prin­ci­pal se­cu­rity re­searcher at an­tivirus and in­ter­net se­cu­rity spe­cial­ists Kasper­sky Labs. “And the vol­ume is grow­ing mas­sively. We an­a­lyse a mil­lion ob­jects [of ma­li­cious code] per day in our virus lab, and more than 60 per cent of our de­tec­tions are of code that has never seen be­fore.”

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