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This current scenario is a monumental change from the last century in terms of not just the profile of the malware ‘specialist’ but the various tools, modus operandi and the scope and span at his command today. In the pages ahead is an attempt to outline how malware content writers and/or hackers have become progressively more vicious and intrusive.Hobby Hacker turns Mr. HydeThe hacking of today began as ‘phreaking’ in the early 70’s. When John Draper’s toy whistle generated the 2600 Hz tone to authorize free calls from telephone exchanges, it was more a prank and a quirk of a ‘kinky’ mind than anything more serious.
In the late 70’s, it turned a trifle more serious with de-coding of bank accounts for defraud. It was around this time that the colourful ‘Captain Zap’ emerged as arguable ‘inspiration’ for a generation of hackers when he broke in AT&T clocks and brought moonshine discounts to people during sunshine hours. Righard J. Zwienenberg, Chief Research Officer at security software vendor Norman Data Systems, recalled that in 1988 people were writing viruses and malware mostly to become famous.
Many early infectious programs in those years were written as pranks and not intended to cause serious damage to computer systems. Trainee programmers learning about viruses and their techniques wrote them for practice or to test them. Since then it has moved into a more organized crime field.The very fact that there was public outcry against allocation of FBI resources against hacking in the US in the ‘80s speaks a lot for the trivial position it occupied in the public psyche. even the 1985 published Hacker’s Handbook encouraged hacking as a sport!
More recently, since the rise of widespread broadband Internet access, malicious software has been written with a profit motive in mind. It speaks of a dangerous trend with malware authors monetizing their control over infected systems and turning that control into a source of revenue. For instance, since 2003, the majority of widespread viruses and worms have been designed to take control of users’ computers for black-market exploitation. Infected “zombie computers” are used to send email spam, to host contraband data such as child pornography or to engage in distributed denial-of-service attacks as a form of extortion.