Utah joined the big league this week with its very own hacking of the Salt Lake City Police Department's Website. The Internet collective known as Anonymous targeted the agency and hacked not only media e-mails (yes, mine was one) but also confidential information from citizens who had entered anonymous complaints about drug crimes. The Website has been down for three days while the agency scrambles to make it more secure.
The hackers claimed to be responding to a graffiti-paraphernalia bill sponsored by a West Valley City Democrat, state Sen. Karen Mayne, posting their rationale here: pastebin.com/tpit8bD3.
Anonymous' prank is a form of "hacktivism," using digital tools to promote political ends.The hacking did call the public's attention to the bill, which yesterday died on the Utah Senate floor. But more importantly, the prank and several others like it in Boston, Syracuse, N.Y. and Greece, showed the vulnerability of law enforcements' Websites.
The chutzpah of Anonymous reached new heights when it listened in on a FBI conference call about the hackings (sounding a bit like an episode of the U.K. version of The Office with a cackling Ricky Gervais), and then posted the call here:
To make sense of it all, City Weekly caught up with Internet businessman Pete Ashdown, founder of XMission (and Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate):
It's hard to imagine that a Utah graffiti bill would be on the radar of the Anonymous movement. Were you surprised by the group's "hacktivism"?
There are individuals who count themselves as members of Anonymous everywhere. Due to the lack of hierarchy in the group, anyone can push forward an agenda. Whether the larger group membership was aware of it is another question. I would say that it isn't so much mass coordination of Anonymous that is being pushed forward as the underlying ideas of Anonymous becoming popularized. In that case, someone affiliated was offended by the attempt to punish the innocent by prosecuting "intent" before a crime has been committed. I think that falls under many of the other causes that Anonymous has fought against.
Do you think the hackers were from Utah?
My guess is that they were local, or at least other Anonymous members were made aware of the legislation by people who are local.
That the police department's site was vulnerable to attack is an embarrassment for the department, no doubt. But the hackings seem to suggest that no site can be 100 percent secure. Do you agree?
There is no perfect security, on or off the Internet. The Internet is especially subject to security problems as it is difficult for even the most diligent system administrator to keep a Website or a system patched up and devoid of all possible exploits. When the administrators aren't so diligent, well, then you get all sorts of possible security problems.
If such hackings continue, the public may come to distrust the Internet as a place to conduct business. What would you say to those who put personal information online with the expectation that the data is secure?
Expect that your data isn't secure and be surprised when it is, instead of the other way around. I don't think the public will come to distrust the Internet as a whole because of isolated security failures. Theft of information is not new to the Internet, yet we still use postal services and credit cards. There is always a risk associated with convenience and the Internet certainly offers many conveniences, but the most secure system on the Internet will always have a simple flaw; it is managed by imperfect humans.
How likely is it that the hackers can be found? Do they leave digital DNA behind?
My experience informs me that it is very unlikely the perpetrators will be found. Moreover, this fact should bring pause to the SLCPD who may be committing resources to a wild-goose chase. The individuals inside Anonymous who have been caught in the past usually were not found through breadcrumbs they'd left behind, but because they talked about their feats to people whom they trusted. Any perpetrator worth their salt would be bouncing their efforts off compromised computers all over the world to cover their tracks. That is very difficult, if not impossible, to trace back to the source.