Computer Hackers (World of Forensic Science)
Forensic science utilizes the global resources of the Internet to access databases and to communicate with concerned experts. This form of communication, however, can make forensic databases and files vulnerable to deliberate sabotage. Computer hackers are people who gain remote access (typically unauthorized and unapproved) to files stored in another computer, or even to the operating system of the computer. In the 1950 and 1960s, hackers were motivated more by a desire to learn the operating characteristics of a computer than by any malicious intent. Indeed, in those days hackers were often legitimate computer programmers who were seeking ways of routing information more quickly through the then-cumbersome operating systems of computers.
Since then, however, computer hacking has become much more sophisticated, organized, and, in many cases, illegal. Some hackers are motivated by a desire to cripple sensitive sites, make mischief, and to acquire restricted information.
In the late 1990s, several computer hackers attempted to gain access to filesin the computer network at the Pentagon. The incidents, which were dubbed Solar Sunrise, were regarded as a dress rehearsal for a later and more malicious cyber-attack, and stimulated a revamping of the military's computer defenses. In another example, computer hackers were able to gain access to patient files at the Indiana University School of Medicine in February 2003.
One well-known hacker is Kevin Mitnick. Beginning in the late 1970s and continuing through the late 1980s, Mitnick was apprehended at least five times for hacking into various computer sites. Indeed, his lenient one-year jail sentence and subsequent
The U.S. Patriot Act was signed into law on October 26, 2001. The intent of the act was to curb the danger posed to the country by terrorism. Computer hackers did not escape the legislative crack-down, since hacking represents a potential national security threat.
Under the act's provisions, the power of federal officials in criminal investigations involving hacking activities has been increased. These increased and somewhat secretive powers were among the contentious issues debated in 2005 as provisions of the Patriot Act come up for renewal.
Indeed, the threats to civilian privacy and national security from computer hackers was deemed so urgent that the U.S. government further enacted the Cyber-Security Enhancement Act in July 2002, as part of the Homeland Security measures in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Under this legislation, hackers can be regarded as terrorists, and can be imprisoned for up to 20 years. In seeking to prosecute a suspected hacker, investigators have the power to conduct Internet searches or telephone taps without court-sanctioned permission.
One tool that a hacker can use to compromise an individual computer or a computer network is a virus. Depending on their design and intent, the consequences of a virus can range from the inconvenient (i.e., defacing of a web site) to the catastrophic (i.e., disabling of a computer network). Within a few years during the 1990s, the number of known computer viruses increased to over 30,000. That number is now upwards of 100,000, with new viruses appearing virtually daily.
Despite the threat that they can pose, computer hackers can also be of benefit. By exposing the flaws in a computer network, hackers can aid in the redesign of the system to make information more inaccessible to unauthorized access.
SEE ALSO Computer hardware security; Computer keystroke recorder; Computer security and computer crime investigation; Computer software security.