The Most Hacker-Active Countries - Part 2
Part II of this series continues the discussion of the most hacker-active countries in terms of intensity of outgoing attack traffic. This part will examine Russia (Section 5), Turkey (Section 6), and Taiwan (Section 7). Finally, a conclusion is drawn (Section 8).
Section 5. Russia
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"In Russia, perhaps more than in most other countries right now, hacking magazines and software are sold on the streets of Moscow," says Ken Dunham, a director of the U. S. based firm iDefense. The reputation of Russian programmers has been formed by continuous reports about cybercrimes committed by hackers from Russia. Not surprisingly, the FBI's most wanted person in the domain of cyber security is a Russian hacker.
The popularity of hacking in Russia can be explained by several factors: a large number of highly educated IT specialists with excellent math and computer skills, a lack of qualified job positions, the difficult financial situation of the country, and geopolitical circumstances.
In Russia, financial struggles encourage young professionals to look for alternative income sources. Thus, hacking becomes a lucrative occupation for skilled IT professionals who struggle to find well-paid job positions. Russian hacking activities range from the creation of viruses (e.g., MyDoom, GameOver Zeus, The Russian Snake) to reading President Obama's emails, and thefts of critical information related to U.S. taxpayers.
As in the countries discussed in Part I of this work, hackers in Russia also act in organized professional divisions, especially in collaboration with criminal groups. Alexander Gostev, a security expert of Moscow-based Kaspersky Labs, claims that, "the influence of organized crime in this area is steadily growing. We are now seeing more malicious programs written by professionals and not by script kiddies as we experienced two to three years ago."
The majority of activities performed by Russian hackers are revenue-oriented. Skilled Russian IT specialists look for cyber-security vulnerabilities in the U.S. and European networks, steal financial information of individuals and companies, and create illegal spam, viruses, and worms. Moreover, in order to gain financial revenue, hacker groups threaten companies by blocking their computer systems. A former hacker who is currently employed as a security specialist notes, "There is more of a financial incentive now for hackers and crackers as well as for virus writers to write for money and not just for glory or some political motive."
Hacking offences in Russia are perceived as minor infractions. Until January 1997, when a new Russian Criminal Code was accepted, computer hacking was legal. According to article 272 of the Criminal Code, illegal access to information stored in a computer is punished with (1) a fine of 200-500 minimum wages, (2) a corrective labor for a term of six to twelve months, or (3) a deprivation of liberty for a term of up to two years. The dissemination of computer viruses is punishable with a monetary fine. The maximum penalty applied if a cybercrime causes large-scale damage exceeding 1 million rubles (about $17,000) is a deprivation of liberty for a term of three to seven years.
In Russia, the government's support for hackers can be identified not only in the mild punishments. Taking into account that Russia is one of the major figures in the international information warfare, the government acknowledges the importance of qualified IT security specialists and look after their continuous education. The Military School of the Federal Security Service near Moscow is often referred as the world major hackers' school. The school trains information security and communication specialists for further positions at the government institutions.
The excellence of Russian programmers can be illustrated by the fact that the biggest cybercrime case in the U.S. history was committed by Russian hackers. A group of four men from Russia and one man from Ukraine stole 160 million payment card numbers. The fraud cost $300 million for companies.
Section 6. Turkey
Despite the Internet censorship and restrictions on media in Turkey, Turkish population is an active consumer of digital services. As of the end of 2012, Turkish Internet users are the second in spending time online in Europe after the UK. The Internet, and especially social media, serves for Turkish citizens not only as a communication and networking platform but also as a venue for expressing protest, and citizen journalism.
The political situation in Turkey and an exceptional role of the Internet platforms are related to the fact that Turkish hackers usually base their activities on religious and political motives. Thus, the hackers target objects of a high visibility and value rather than a large number of computer users. This factor distinguishes Turkish hacking patterns from the practices in the aforementioned countries.
The hack of the Vatican website, writing off an electric bill for $670,000, attacks of domain name systems, revenge for a company providing poisonous milk to Turkish schools, leaking secret governmental information – these and many more cyber-security issues are assigned to hackers in Turkey. Turkish hackers often use SQL injection, malware, web defacements, and other techniques to target their objects.
The main actor in cyber security in Turkey is RedHack, a group of left-wing hackers addressing political issues, leaking information about Turkish government, and hacking major public and corporate institutions, such as Turkish Football Federation, National Intelligence Organization, Turkish Police, Türk Telekom, and Air Forces Command. It is important to note, that the government of Turkey accused RedHack of being a terrorist organization.
Despite the fact that the legal measures against hackers in Turkey were accepted in 2004, it wasn't until 2013 that ten RedHack members were put on trial. The charges were related to an unauthorized access to private computer systems, a theft of confidential documents, and an unlawful collection of personal information. Moreover, the hackers were accused with belonging to an armed terrorist organization.
In Turkey, the legislation against hacking is based on The Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime. The treaty contains legal measures against people who access all or part of a computer system illegally.
The articles 243-246 of the Turkish Penal Code state that the unauthorized entering in a data processing system is punished with an imprisonment of up to one year or with a punitive fine. The unauthorized transfer of data is punishable with up to two years in jail. A hindering or detriment of operation of a data processing system is punished with imprisonment from one to five years. The maximum penalty for hackers, six years in prison, is imposed if a cybercrime is committed with the purpose to acquire information from credit cards.
Ozgur Uckan, a professor of economics and political science at Istanbul's Bilgi University, suggests not to underestimate hackers' contribution to society, especially in the complex political situation in Turkey. The professor notes: "without hackers there is no progress at all, there is no technology at all. Because curiosity is imagination, and imagination is free."
Section 7. Taiwan
There is no better place for a dedicated hacker to practice professional cyber-security skills than Taiwan. Due to its geopolitical location, Taiwan is a battleground of a large number of cyber-attacks. Although Taiwan is the third top source of cyber-attacks, it is also one of the most targeted states in the Asia-Pacific region, especially for cyber- attacks from Mainland China.
The computer networks of the Taiwanese government, businesses, and data centers are repeatedly attacked with the aim of obtaining sensitive military and technological intelligence. Benson Wu, a co-founder of the analysis and security company Xecure Lab, claims that eight out of ten government agencies "are either targeted for a long time or have been compromised." Moreover, hacking tactics and bugs "are being exercised and verified in Taiwan before they are used in other countries", Wu says.
Factors such as the political relations between Taiwan and China and the common language and culture, make Taiwan an attractive target for Chinese hackers. The IT security specialists note that Taiwan often becomes a testing ground, which allows hackers to practice the patterns of cyber-attacks before directing them to other more strategically important countries.
The frequent danger of cyber-attacks encourages Taiwanese IT security specialists to improve their professional skills. Taiwanese hackers win prizes in prestigious hacker competitions, such as the Capture the Flag competitions in the U.S. and Japan.
In 1997, the laws prohibiting computer-related crimes were added to the Taiwanese Criminal Code in order to address the growing concerns about network security. Currently, the unauthorized access and use of another person's computer is punishable either with a fine up to $16,000 or up to three years of imprisonment. If a hacker steals, deletes, or alters personal data from a computer and causes additional damage, the fine grows up to $32,000 and the penalty increases up to five years in jail. If the crime is committed in relation to government computer networks, the penalties increase with 50%.
Nowadays, it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate which cybercrimes are committed by Taiwanese hackers and which by non-Taiwanese hackers who hide behind Taiwanese IP addresses. Although Taiwanese officials continuously signal onslaughts on their computers and unauthorized use of their servers by Chinese hackers, Taiwan is accused of performing major cyber-attacks directed towards the government of the Philippines. Moreover, Google has reported experiencing a cyber-attack from a server in Taiwan. Similarly, a part of a series of cyber-attacks "Operation Aurora" was controlled from servers in Taiwan.
The National Security Bureau of Taiwan (NSB), which is in charge of national security and intelligence affairs, reports that the major enemy in the ongoing cyber-warfare is an army of 180.000 Chinese cyber-spies. Chinese hackers use sophisticated methods to break into networks of Taiwanese government agencies and other industries for the purpose of stealing sensitive information. In order to deal with the immense cyber-attacks targeted at the country, NSB is currently creating a new department. The new unit is designated as the Seventh Internet Operations Department. It will be dealing with cyber-defense. The government will employ Internet safety experts and hackers who will contribute to creating the Taiwanese cyber-defense strategy.
Section 8. Conclusion
In the contemporary networked world, hackers are perceived as a subculture of highly skilled and educated computer specialists. In parallel with the advance of the Internet, the role of a hacker shifted from an unsocial nerd to a highly skilled IT professional.
This article has briefly discussed and outlined the atmosphere in the six most hacker active countries in terms of the intensity of outgoing attack traffic, namely, China, USA, India, Russia, Turkey, and Taiwan.
In the countries discussed above, hackers are accepted not only as cyber-criminals threatening national and corporate security but also as figures, which stimulate the development of IT sectors. By exploiting network security vulnerabilities, hackers encourage the development of cyber security. Moreover, a number of former hackers serve as information security specialists in private and public agencies.
Books and Academic Articles:
- Carr, Jeffrey. Inside cyber warfare: Mapping the cyber underworld. O'Reilly Media, Inc., 2011.
- Holt, Thomas J. The attack dynamics of political and religiously motivated hackers. Cyber Infrastructure Protection (2009): 161-182
- Jordan, Tim. Hacking: Digital Media and Technological Determinism. John Wiley & Sons, 2013.
- Schema, Mike. Hacking Web Apps: Detecting and Preventing Web Application Security Problems. Newnes, 2012.
Simpson, Michael. Hands-On Ethical Hacking and Network Defense. Cengage Learning, 2012.
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Rasa Juzenaite works as a project manager in an IT legal consultancy firm in Belgium. She has a Master degree in cultural studies with a focus on digital humanities, social media, and digitization. She is interested in the cultural aspects of the current digital environment.