Friday, March 15, 2013

Sociopaths, vandals, break-in artists and The Atlantic Wire

The Atlantic Wire, the online publication of a magazine I once venerated, has leaped to the defense of Matthew Keys, 26 years old, who has been fired from his editorial job at Reuters in New York after an indictment. The indictment charges that Keys hacked the Los Angeles Times website with help from the infamous hacking group Anonymous.

And there was a bit more to it than that, according to a Reuters story:
The indictment charged Keys with three criminal counts, including conspiracy to transmit information to damage a protected computer. The indictment said that he promised to give hackers access to Tribune Co websites and that a story on the Tribune's Los Angeles Times website was later altered by one of them. 
 A gush of sympathy for the malicious

Remarkably, this act, which was malicious vandalism at the very least, has created an outpouring of sympathy for the perpetrator “You can’t help but feel bad for Adam Keys,” began an article by Adam Clark Estes in The Atlantic Wire.

Estes complains, “Here’s a media enthusiast who suddenly finds himself potentially unemployed and facing up to 25 years in prison and $750,000 in fines for a few keystrokes.”

Wow, if the degree of a crime’s gravity (or depravity) depends on how many times you manipulate a finger or two stroking some keys, maybe we should let off mass murderers who only finger the trigger of their semi-automatic weapons ten or twenty times.

Moreover, it turns out that Keys may have been motivated by wanting revenge for his dismissal from the Los Angeles Times. Even hacker sympathizer Estes admits, “It was probably a bad idea to tell Anonymous hackers to ‘go fuck some shit up’ after giving them login credentials for the Tribune Company.”

That’s malicious intent, if you ask me. It's not terribly far from a disgruntled corporate or postal employee who gets fired and returns to his workplace with a weapon, also to wiggle his finger a few times and "fuck some shit up."

Count on Congress to do the wrong thing

Remarkably, even right wing Repubican California Congressman Daryl Issa, usually a law-and-order fanatic, has jumped in to launch an “investigation” relating to the suicide of another criminally-charged hacker, Aaron Swartz, in January.

Similarly, Congresswomen Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, is pumping for an “Aaron’s Law” that would keep prosecutors from being mean to these poor babies who hack into other peoples’ property.

How serious is hacking?

Forget, for a moment, that one of the greatest threats this nation faces is from cyberatttack. Forget that, just as the United States set back Iran’s nuclear development by hacking into their nuclear labs and destroying centrifuges, some hacker can do something similar to the United States’ capacity for defense, manufacturing, banking, the financial markets, air traffic control and the power grid. Or to steal industrial secrets, as China evidently has been doing.

Fact is, it doesn’t matter whether the hacker happens to be an economic rival, a mortal enemy of this nation, or just an arrogant twenty-something trying out “a few keystrokes” to see what will happen. The damage to property, income an reputation is the same, regardless of intent.

Sociopaths, vandals and break-in artists

However, I’ll go beyond that, and suggest that these hacker vandals are little more than sociopaths, unsympathetic to the plight of individuals, small businesses, or the public at large, which can be harmed in a variety of ways by their “innocent” games. You may feel sympathetic now to a hacker facing a long sentence for messing with a newspaper. But what if the next hacker gets into your stock brokerage account and bankrupts you just for the hell of it? Or removes all the cash from your bank account? Or puts statements on, say, your Facebook page, allegedly written by you, that make you look like a sexist, or a racist, or a rapist?

I speak out against hacking from personal experience. I maintain a website for my freelance writing business under my own name, which I don’t openly advertise on this blog for what I hope are obviously valid reasons. In February, my website was hacked, and began sending out, I gather, thousands of spam e-mails under my name. That certainly couldn’t have helped either my reputation or my income.

I learned about this when my web hosting company contacted me, informed me that as my own webmaster I was responsible for the spam, and that I’d better disinfect my website, or else. Their time-consuming over-the-phone tech support, for an hour or more at a time, proved unequal to the problem. After many hours of trying to remove malicious code on my own, I had to hire a consultant to fix the problem.

A personal toll of money and misery

Well, it took the consultant, a large website design company, about a week to get the mess cleaned up. That set me back $1,900. If the money had been taken directly from my wallet by a thief, instead of indirectly by the actions of a hacker, the act would have been grand larceny.

Meanwhile, backing-and-forthing among the consultant, me and the web host contributed to destroying a vacation I happened to be in the midst of when this happened.

Who hacked me and why? I don’t know. Nor do I know how what the hacker did was any different than someone who smashes a window of your home to let himself in, deliberately turns up the stereo full blast to annoy your neighbors, and then spray paints grafitti on your walls and defecates on your pillow.

Sure, nobody gets “hurt,” in the physical sense of the word. But the break-in artist (or hacker) has done serious emotional and financial damage to you for no reason at all. If you came home one night, and found someone in the process of doing what I’ve just described, I suspect you’d be legally justified in shooting the intruder dead.

So why shouldn’t hacking be considered a serious crime worthy of a long stay in prison? It’s the wanton act of a sociopath, and sociopaths need to be locked up early, before they do increasingly greater damage to society.

Matthew Key and his ilk get no sympathy from me. And shame on The Atlantic for letting its web creature, The Atlantic Wire, support blatantly antisocial behavior.

No comments: