Data Sheet—Saturday, August 26, 2017
The honor code among hackers has broken down. That’s the opinion of Christopher Ahlberg, the CEO of Recorded Future, a company that places moles in chatrooms where cyber-criminals gather, and uses machine learning to predict attacks.
Over lunch in New York, Ahlberg explained that professional hackers will spy, steal, or deface a target’s computer systems. It’s part of the mission. The difference today, he said, is a new breed of hackers who are indiscriminate in who they target, and are willing to perform pointless destruction and sabotage.
The reasons for this cyber-nihilism are not surprising. According to Ahlberg, hackers’ most dangerous weapons are no longer restricted to a small group of actors, including government agencies and coding virtuosos, who follow a set of ethics. Instead, many scary exploits are available (thanks in part to breaches at the NSA) to rogue nation states or ordinary lowlifes who purchase them on the Internet.
Ahlberg’s observations suggest it will be hard to return to an era where every hacker operated with an honor code. And noble ideas like a Digital Geneva Convention, proposed by Microsoft’s Brad Smith, may be out of reach in the immediate future.
On a more upbeat note, new blockchain technologies offer the promise of improved security in many aspects of our online lives. That’s one reason Fortune this week launched The Ledger—a new franchise dedicated to the intersection of technology, cryptography, and money. Its inaugural stories included Robert’s definitive account of blockchain and Jen Wieczner’s fascinating account of 21st Century bank robbery (more on that below). Thanks as always for reading.
Jeff John Roberts
Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. You may reach Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my about.me), PGP encrypted email (see public key on my Keybase.io), Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.
"Calling out someone with an army" That's how Dmitry Alperovitch of CrowdStrike, which specializes in unmasking cyber bad guys (including nation states), describes one of the highlights of his job. A short profile of Alperovitch—no. 26 on our 40-under-40 list—also cites his penchant for colorful operations names like "Shady RAT." (Fortune)
Digging deep for Hutchins—with others' money: Marcus Hutchins, the WannaCry hero arrested after DefCon for making malware, quickly received a pile of money for his legal defense fund. Too bad the vast majority of it came via stolen credit cards, prompting his lawyer to refund all of the donations. (BuzzFeed)
R u ready 4 blockchain txt? Billionaire Mark Cuban is backing an ambitious project to make messaging and social media more secure and less troll-y. It involves a new type of blockchain called the Mercury Protocol, and will be designed for Cuban's texting app Dust and for popular apps like WhatsApp as well. (Fortune)
Rattling the Russians: Seven hackers from Russia have been arrested or indicted by US authorities this year—up from an average of two a year—even under a White House friendly to Russia. It has reportedly made more hackers reluctant to leave Russia, and created concerns that US operations are interfering with their money making. (Reuters)
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Hackers are targeting crypto-currency owners—and their success rate is staggering. Fortune's Jen Wieczner takes a close look at these "21st century bank robberies" in a must-read feature.
Problems like this—along with unauthorized credit card purchases of cryptocurrency—cost Coinbase a stunning 10% of all revenue it collects, a fraud-loss rate 20 times as high as PayPal’s. “I firmly believe,” Ranjan added, “we have the hardest payment fraud and user security problem in the world right now.” Read more on Fortune.com.
Google Kicks 500 Apps off Online Store Over Spyware Concerns by Jonathan Vanian
WalMart and 9 Food Giants Team Up on IBM Blockchain Plans by Robert Hackett
3 Cyber Security Stocks to Buy Now by Ryan Derousseau
Hackers Use Smart Devices to Show How Sonar Can Spy on You by David Morris
This Connected Home Startup has a New Way to Lock the Door by Barb Darrow
ONE MORE THING
Meet Burger King's new crypto-currency. It's called (surprise) the WhopperCoin and is available in the chain's Russia locations. Anyone want to predict the over/under on how long it will take until hackers figure out how to steal the WhopperCoin? (NYMag)