Last week, there were plenty of headlines about the latest cyber-attack targeting U.S. infrastructure and American lives. But there were no photos or videos attached—just endless news hitting the wires that the personal information of over four million current and former U.S. federal employees was stolen. Then investigators later revealed that the cyber-attack could be the largest virtual caper in U.S. history.
Cybersecurity experts, who are working with U.S. government officials, told CNN that the data breach was “designed to build a vast database in what could be preparation for future attacks by China against the U.S.” In addition, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) confirmed to The Wall Street Journal that they also are currently involved in investigating the high-tech robbery, which was discovered in April at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
It was also only two weeks ago when Russian hackers allegedly stole the personal tax information of more than 100,000 taxpayers. However, news stories seem to fall short of providing any concrete identifying information about the hackers—adding constant fear of an imminent violation of the worse kind: privacy.
And while every piece of information about an individual from birth to death can now be downloaded with the stroke of a key, it’s only the hackers who can still maintain any secrecy today. The fact remains: The public knows very little about these sophisticated crooks— leaving so much to the imagination. What is known are the profiles of hackers, using characters from the movies, of course.
Revenge of the Nerds
Who are these people who hide behind computers all across the world to pillage private information via the web? What do they look like and what’s their motivation? In the movies, the suspect would most likely be a “nerd.” According to the UrbanDictorynary.com, a nerd is “often highly intelligent but socially rejected because of their obsession with a given subject, usually computers.”
One of the most famous movies that features the stereotypical nerd who might be predisposed to becoming a hacker is the 1984 movie, “Revenge of the Nerds.” In this movie, a group of nerdy college students are kicked out of their dormitory by the Alpha Betas. After being humiliated and forced to live in the college gym, the nerds move to a run-down house off campus to plot revenge.
This later explodes into “high-tech warfare against the jocks,” according to an Amazon review. Last year, JP Morgan Chase played the role of the jock when it became among America’s largest banks to be hit in a series of high-tech robberies.
“The FBI is looking into a possible revenge plot involving Western sanctions levied on Russia because of the situation in the Ukraine,” Bloomberg News, the first group to report the story, said in 2014.
The suspects or “nerds” in this case were Russian criminals who stole gigabytes of data, including over 80 million customer’s checking and saving accounts, e-mail addresses and phone numbers. So does the pocket-protector wearing nerd, Albert who the stars in The Revenge of the Nerds, fit the profile?
Well there also is the computer geek David, from the 1983 film, “War Games.” David—who is a slacker, but an intelligent one— hacks into the high-school computer to change his grades. But his juvenile antics later turn into a more serious offense: unintentionally hacking into a top- secret military computer that has total control over the U.S. nuclear arsenal, according to an Amazon review. The computer eventually challenges the boy to a game: a fight between America and Russia that could start the countdown to World War 3.
Like the computer with the sinister voice in War Games, the alleged Russian hackers who pinched data from the U.S. Internal Revenue’s “Get Transcript" website in May were not playing any games. According to The AP, the high-tech criminals were responsible for “clearing a security screen that required detailed knowledge about each taxpayer, including their Social Security number, date of birth, tax filing status and street address”. And they had previously used some of the data to secure up to $50 million in fake tax refunds, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told The AP.
Is it possible that over 30 years later, the computer geek, David became a shady international hacker?
“More avenues for online assistance also means more avenues for exploitation by hackers and greater risk to the IRS and taxpayers,” J. Russell George, Treasury inspector general for tax administration, told the U.S. Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday in a hearing about the case, as reported by CBSNews. "The IRS faces a daunting task in protecting its data and IT environment from the ever changing and rapidly evolving hacker world.”
“If you asked any real computer geek, who would be your idealized comic book superhero version of yourself, than nine nerds out of 10 say Keanu Reeves in the Matrix … as long as it’s the first Matrix,” says Fandango.
Could the hackers be like Neo, an average computer programmer by day and the long, black trench coat wearing hacker by night? At this point, it is still unclear. However, officials told CNN on Friday that the high-tech caper “appears to have been carried out by the same Chinese hackers who attacked Anthem Insurance earlier this year, in which information on tens of millions of customers was stolen.”
“The extent of personal data stolen makes this attack an order of magnitude greater than any we have seen of its kind in the past,” California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee who was briefed on the attack, told CNN.
But the Chinese Foreign Ministry neither confirmed nor denied its involvement in the breach, which was originally thought to have penetrated both the Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Interior. However, officials later said that the hackers had robbed nearly every federal government agency, according to CNN. Instead, Chinese officials did confirm that the country “has been a victim of cyberattacks in the past.”
“China itself is also a victim of cyberattacks,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Friday in Beijing, as reported by CNN. “China resolutely tackles cyberattack activities in all forms.”
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
While officials continue to point fingers in different directions and news reporters continue to speculate. The identity of the hackers remains relatively unknown to the public— causing more panic and frustration.
“Unreal, I don’t have enough money as it is,” Facebook user Shari Saeler posted on the Office of Personnel Management’s page, as reported by CNN. “Now I have to worry about someone stealing it!”
“I do not understand why I heard this on the news instead of via letter or email from OPM,” Retiree Linda Eleanor Rigby Robbins posted.
At Friday morning’s press conference, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest refused to share any information about the latest attack, instead he cited the ongoing investigation. But he did manage to point his finger at Congress “for not doing enough to pass laws that would enhance cybersecurity.”
“We need the United States Congress to come out of the Dark Ages and actually join us here in the 21st century to make sure that we have the kinds of defenses that are necessary to protect a modern computer system,” Earnest told CNN.
Just like in movie, “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” investigators are up against a “virtually impossible enemy.” And the enemy in the series of cyber-attacks directed at the U.S. could be anyone— even the “nerd” or “computer geek” that works over in IT.
Who do you think is responsible for the various attacks? Your thoughts and comments below please...