If the 2016 US presidential election battle royale between tycoon Donald Trump and DC power player Hillary Clinton taught us anything — other than that American politics is the dirtiest game on the planet — it is that computer hacking remains an ever-present danger to all.
The Democratic Party has been crying foul since Election Day, claiming Russia is behind hacks of party emails that ended up being released by Wikileaks. Before the election, Trump was making the claim at his thousands-strong rallies that Clinton and her Dems were going to rig the election. This wild assertion was picked up by the losing Dems after the election with their claim — still unsubstantiated as of the writing of this article — that Russian actors hacked the election to make sure Trump won.
To many, these claims and counter-claims sound like the complaints of petulant children — a “He did it” versus “No, she did it” kind of thing. But one must not be fooled. There is more danger now, in 2017, of being hacked than there has ever been. And hackers are only growing in sophistication.
The legend of Mafiaboy
It’s difficult to imagine what it would be like to walk the streets as someone who earned worldwide fame for breaking the law. But this is Michael Calce‘s world. Does the name ring a bell? Probably not. Perhaps you know him by the handle he was using back in 2000 — Mafiaboy — when as a 15-year old high school student in Quebec he brought down CNN, Dell, Amazon, E-Trade, Yahoo And eBay. At the time Yahoo was the biggest search engine in the world and CNN was years away from being branded (fairly or unfairly) as a propagandist, a purveyor of fake news.
Calce had nothing to say about his “work” for years afterward. But of late he’s been talking. The short documentary film “Rivolta: Inside the Mind of Canada’s Most Notorious Hacker” is as much a biography of this fascinating and brilliant individual as a cautionary tale. This is not to say the producers of the film want you to feel bad, but by the end of the film one cannot help but feel frightened and guilty in some measure of the crime of online carelessness.
“[There are] just so many ways to manipulate a human being,” says Calce, sending a shiver down the spine. “Everybody thinks they’re not a target … the reality is that you don’t need to be a target. The second you access the internet you’re granted an IP address, and that alone is worth something.”
“The exploit is the human being”
What makes “Rivolta” so compelling is that it speaks to each and every one of the more than three and a half billion internet users in the world. The film is timely for two reasons: not only does it present the danger of being hacked — of how easy it is for hackers to access our data — but more importantly it gives us a clear idea of just how the hacking world has evolved as the Internet of Things has emerged.
Calce is very clear on one point: that today, more than ever it’s all about the user. Although being hacked is disturbing, and an invasion of personal space, it is not to most people a personal thing, a face-to-face crime. To Calce, people still don’t care enough. There is so much data just hanging out there, waiting to be harvested. Hackers, most of whom are motivated primarily by what they can gain from their work, see information as a commodity. So it is up to individuals to get serious about protecting their valuable information.
The best parts of “Rivolta” are the ones where Calce speaks clinically, in a cold, almost machine-like fashion, about how easy it is for hackers today to compromise entire systems:
You could be trailing an employee, checking his routine, seeing where he’s going. And if it’s him using a train to get to work every day, you could access the train router and set it up [in a way] that he gets booted off and then he connects to another access point [not knowing] that the access point is your laptop. And the second he goes to work and then plugs in that computer, the whole company’s been breached. The exploit is the human being.
To watch the official “Rivolta” trailer, click here.