There was a movie in the early 2000’s called Catch Me if You Can, which was based on a true story about a young runaway fellow who brazenly managed to create fake checks and stay one step ahead of the law. In those days, it was cut and paste with real paper. Now it’s craftier and more sophisticated. It’s all done digitally in cyberspace.
The ability of hackers to access other computers and servers and manipulate them has expanded to the possibilities of hackers shutting down your car, accessing smart homes, and interfering with medical instruments that contain computer programming. These tricks could lead to demands for cash payments in order to regain access to vehicles and homes.
A Homeland TV episode featured the murder of a powerful figure by a hacker who manipulated the programming of his wireless defibrillator, causing a fatal heart attack.
Notorious high-profile hacker Barnaby Jack once demonstrated how a flaw in an insulin pump could be exploited, which could lead to a person’s death. He had planned to demonstrate how a pacemaker could be hacked and cause death, but he died before that could be demonstrated.
Now, Europol and US security firm IID are warning that deaths will be caused by hackers interfering with emergency and medical equipment.
A summary of hacking for dollars
This is a handy way to pilfer money from large financial institutions if one doesn’t get too greedy and takes time with some breaks in between. The first international internet bank heist didn’t get busted until the master mind, a young Russian computer whiz named Vladimir Levin, had accumulated $10 million for him and his accomplices.
He got caught only because he had couriers pick up cash or checks from accounts into which Levin had routed money from large international banks with corporate customers. Some could consider the lad a Robin Hood-type hero if had he managed to succeed and distribute that money to worthy causes.
But in the mid-1990s, San Francisco FBI agents tracked down the couriers at a local bank, whose only recourse for leniency was to finger Levin and others involved as the source of this global operation. Since then, perhaps because large banks were informed of Levin’s techniques, internet hacking robbers have focused on individual ATM accounts and credit card theft.
There’s nothing heroic about that. It affects hard-working families and individuals who are not so well off. In Mexico circa 2008 when this author was living there, some gringos living in San Miguel de Allende were discovering money missing from their accounts when they went to ATMs.
This practice has grown more sophisticated and has spread to European countries as well. Apparently, the stolen monies are now taken as cash directly from the bank accounts without stealing the identity of card holders.
It only takes minutes, and the hackers manage to shut down the ATM system during that time to avoid detection. But whenever one’s account is raided, the card holder usually has to cancel that one and get another.
More recently in the United States, large store chains had their checkout payment systems hacked to permit theft. The chains included Home Depot, most recently, and earlier, Neiman Marcus, Target and even a grocer chain and a restaurant chain.
Whenever that happens, your credit or debit card company usually winds up canceling your card and issuing a new one.
“Home Depot said that its investigation has determined the criminals used ‘unique, custom-built malware’ that wasn’t present in other attacks,” reported MarketWatch.com. They and others have had to reconfigure their payment terminal system’s servers to prevent a recurrence.
At least cyberspace theft victims don’t need to worry about guns and shootouts in their stores or banks.