Artificial IntelligenceCryptocurrencyMetaverseCybersecurityTech Forward

Why the Honor Code Among Hackers Has Broken Down

August 26, 2017, 5:11 PM UTC
Computer hacker silhouette. Blue binary code background. Seattle office.
Bill Hinton Moment Editorial—Getty Images

A version of this post originally appeared in the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter.

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.

As examples, Ahlberg pointed to cyber attacks directed at hospitals and transit systems, and the wantonness of the ransomware attacks that spread across the globe this year.

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.