Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Jester goes after Amped

This Vigilante Hacker is Taking Down Racist Websites

For the last ten days, a vigilante hacker only known as “Amped Attacks” has been attacking and briefly taking down racist websites like Porch Monkeys, Ku Klux Klan-affiliated portals, and skinhead sites.

“KKK and all RACIST I have a question,” he tweeted on Saturday. “How does it feel knowing one man is taking you all down one by one?”

The Amped Attacks vigilante, who claimed to be a white 27-year-old Navy veteran, said he has taken down more than 40 racist websites in ten days. His motivation is to expose racists, such as members of the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) and neo-nazis, and let them know “someone is watching them,” he said. 

“My main mission is drawing attention to all racism, because this is no longer the 1800s, early 1900s,” he told me in a Skype call. “We’re living in an era where everybody should be accepted.” 

Amped Attacks’ activities seem to be the latest example of online vigilantism, loosely inspired by the hacktivist collective Anonymous. The group gained widespread notoriety a few years ago by taking down websites by flooding them with bogus traffic. These attacks are technically known as a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, and have become very easy to pull off thanks to readily available off-the-shelf software that helps automate them. 

“My main mission is drawing attention to all racism, because this is no longer the 1800s.“

“DDoS is incredibly simplistic, at a purely technological level,” Molly Sauter, a doctoral student at McGill University who has written a book about how DDoS attacks are a form of online civil disobedience, told Motherboard last year.

But Amped Attacks says DDoS’ing websites is just the beginning. On Halloween, he said he will release the full names and locations of the members of the websites and forums that he’s hacked. In other words, he wants to dox them. (He said that he won’t publish their full home addresses to prevent a real-life “vigilante” from showing up at their doorstep.)

His final goal is for the authorities to investigate his targets, who he believes are committing “hate crimes,” he said. 

“I guess I’m the one gathering proof for them to start their own investigation,” he said.

Gabriella Coleman, a sociologist who has studied and written a book about Anonymous, told me that after the high profile activities of that hacktivist group, as well as others’, like PhineasFisher, who exposed the secrets of the surveillance tech companies FinFisher and Hacking Team, these vigilantes “are going to proliferate.”

But Amped Attacks has already gotten the negative attention of another notorious online vigilante, the patriotic hacker only known as The Jester. The hacker criticized Amped Attacks for being a copycat, targeting ISIS websites, and using the military expression “Tango Down” when announcing a successful takedown, an expression that the Jester usually uses too. The Jester also said Amped Attacks briefly took down his site earlier this week, something that “shows what he's really about.”

“His motivation is press attention, like all of these kids,” The Jester told me in a direct message on Twitter. “They don't really believe in their stated 'causes.'” (The Jester also added that Amped Attacks' actions are not as sophisticated as his.) 

Amped Attacks, however, said that he’s attacking racist websites because even though he knows he is not going to fix racism alone, “I just want to know for myself that I did what I could.”

This article has been updated to add the Jester's comment on the sophistication of Amped Attack's actions.

Why Everyone Is Getting Hacked

Why Everyone Is Getting Hacked These Days

If it feels like there have been a lot of password hacks this year, it's because there have been more than usual, and Ars Technica's Dan Goodin explains why that is. In short: Password hacking has gotten better, while our password making has gotten worse. "The result: security provided by the average password in 2012 has never been weaker," Goodin writes, which is why it shouldn't surprise you that this year we have heard about security breaches at LinkedIneHarmonyYahoo Voices, and a personal horror story from Wired's Mat Honan. Last year, James Fallows told us about his wife's security situation in The Atlantic story called "Hacked!" And for all the high profile accounts, there are all the ones we don't hear about. It's happening a lot these days.

But why the sudden uptick? Goodin explains:

  • Our password habits have gotten worse. "The average Web user maintains 25 separate accounts but uses just 6.5 passwords to protect them, according to a landmark study (PDF) from 2007," he writes. We have more things for which we need to create codes and it takes far too much brain space to store 25 different combos. Having the same passwords for various accounts was what did Fallows' wife in. Plus, the passwords we pick are stupid, as we learned from the Yahoo Voices hack, in which "123456" was (still!) a popular choice. It takes 10 minutes to crack a lower case 6 character password. To avoid this possible issue, we have before suggested picking dumb passwords for sites that don't matter. 
  • Password cracking has gotten better. "Now used increasingly for computing, graphics processors allow password-cracking programs to work thousands of times faster than they did just a decade ago on similarly priced PCs that used traditional CPUs alone," adds Goodin, who details the various tech advancements in hacking. The LinkedIn breach taught us this, leading us to the conclusion that perhaps we need to accept that the modern password isn't good enough anymore. 
  • There is a hacking network effect. With each hacker password revelation, future thieves learn more about the way the aggregate thinks. "The ever-growing list of leaked passwords allows programmers to write rules that make cracking algorithms faster and more accurate; password attacks have become cut-and-paste exercises that even script kiddies can perform with ease," explains Goodin. For one, it proves people still use "123456" and "password," even after being told lots of time to use better, different passwords. How many of you have started using Gmail's two-tiered authentication
  • Sites have gotten worse at protecting us. Again, a lesson we learned from LinkedIn, in which the company admitted its protective measures weren't good enough. Honan blamed Apple and Amazon for his hack, too. The bulk of Goodin's post goes into the technical specifics of this dangerous state of affairs. Many websites for example don't have enough ""cryptographic 'salt' to passwords to render such attacks infeasible." "To the detriment of millions of Internet users, going without salt is only one of the many sins that popular websites routinely commit against password security," he writes. 

Reading Goodin's take confirms to us that we have reached the end of the password as we know it. But what to do now? One could hope that technology fixes everything. Or maybe we should start thinking about the kind of stuff we put on the Internet and how we protect it. 

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