Coding matters: What the real hacker looks like

A black and white stylised image with 3 images: on the left a young boy, in the middle a hacker in an Anonymous mask, on the right a group of business people.

The CSIR estimates that cybercrime costs South Africa R2.2 billion a year, and that will increase. If you’ve seen any statistics about cybercrime, that won’t surprise you.

Thanks to movies and media, most of us have a mental picture of what a hacker looks like. It’s either a teenage boy in a basement, or an activist wearing the Anonymous mask and a hoodie. The Anonymous mask is a white smiling face, with a black moustache turned up at the ends, and a thin pointed beard.

From recent articles about the ITWeb SecuritySummit 2023, it seems we only got it half right.

Hacker #1: The pre-teen

The part we got right is the teenager, except for the age. Now they start as young as 10 or 11 years old. I wonder if that’s the result of all those movies.

This may not be a South African trend, given the news that only 18% of Grade 4 learners can understand what they read.

Hacker #2: The hacker with customer support

According to Mark Hofmann, an international crime and intelligence analyst, organised cyber crime is really organised. He describes it as more professional than many businesses. They have customer service, QA and marketing teams.

So don’t worry if you are hit by ransomware. A friendly support consultant will guide you through how to pay the ransom and get your data back. And you can trust their quality control too. After all, they want to make sure the next victim is willing to pay. (FYI: experts advise against paying the ransom.)

I’m not sure if that should upset us or reassure us. But I suppose being hacked would be even worse if you had to deal with a government-style call centre.

Hacker #3: The transhuman

You might remember my email about cyborg rights. There are some cyborgs who don’t worry about rights – well, not other people’s rights.

Len Noe, a technical evangelist, describes himself as a “transhuman biohacker”. He has 10 different microchips implanted beneath the skin in his arms and hands. He can use these to interact with contactless technologies. And he can use physical contact to hack devices that use those technologies.

If that isn’t scary enough, detection is almost impossible. Police or security can search him, but won’t find any tools. And most countries have laws protecting medical records, so he can’t be questioned about or examined for chips.

Few of us are “living the dream”, whatever your version of the dream is. But we’re definitely living the science fiction.

I’d love to hear your opinion.

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