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Is a hacker hovering in your horoscope?

Has it been your bad fortune to get mugged electronically lately? Electronic mugging is a new term to add to your telecomm lexicon. Its impact can be devastating.

Recently, friends of mine learned, to their horror, that someone had hacked into their personal credit records and manipulated the data to create a negative rating condition. Now they can't apply for a mortgage or loans of any kind-and probably can't even rent a home or apartment. Someone gained access to one of the three national credit reporting firms (TRW, Equifax, and Trans Union). Their hard-earned excellent credit rating had been totally destroyed.

The sad part of this is that the person who did the deed is known to the couple and was getting a sort of twisted revenge. My friends were mugged electronically. Are your networks an open door to privacy violations like this?

Billions of dollars are lost each year to fraud, hacking and other activities. In response, equipment vendors and carriers have begun offering a variety of products and services to deal with these issues. Consultants have been busy. The security industry is hot. Let's explore some of the things that made fraud and hacking possible.

Many of you did not have a computer when you were young. However, most of our children have been computer-literate for years. Modems and phone lines are as much a part of their life style as credit cards are to you and me. But something went wrong over the years. A few people took advantage of the opportunities and the technologies and turned them into tools of crime.

Hacking developed as PCs entered the marketplace. Individuals could call virtually anywhere in the world by computer. Those at the leading edge of computer hacking quickly realized the gold mine of available information. They developed number dialing programs to dial all numbers in an exchange, from 0000 to 9999. Another program could note the presence of computer tones and record that data for later use.

Still other programs generated passwords until access was obtained. This could be done overnight, while the hacker slept. Armed with access numbers and passwords, hackers learned how to browse through America's vast information repositories.

Computer technology became ever more sophisticated, especially when used in telecomm networks. Public and private networks today are totally computer driven. Millions of lines of software code make up the nation's network infrastructure.

Since network technology is almost totally dependent on software, hackers simply need to get at the code. Having accomplished that, it is only a matter of time before they do real damage. We all saw how fragile our national network was in January 1990 when AT&T's SS7 net crashed for nine hours, the result of an accidental software bug. Similar outages in operating telcos were also software-related.

The example of two hard-working citizens and someone seeking revenge through databases resulted in the lives of two persons being seriously altered.

In short, we have created our own endless nightmare. We have the most sophisticated and efficient telecomm environment of any nation. Nowhere else is phone service such a bargain. And nowhere else are billions being lost annually to network hacking.

Having researched these issues on a continuing basis for years, we can say that public and private networks are more secure today than five years ago. However, computer and phone network hackers also are better at their work than five years ago.

Imagine two parallel timeline. One represents the development and evolution of telecomm network technology. Many milestones can be found.

However, the hacker timeline also has its grand moments. These include development of the first virus, devices that simulate public coin phone tones, phone number dialing programs, access code hacking programs, creation of the Internet virus, the first PBX toll fraud case, and others.

Security programs are getting better, but so are the people who spend their lives defeating them.

When will this endless loop end? It won't for the foreseeable future. Perhaps once a technology like SS7 is in place throughout the nation's networks, we can develop ways to identify and entrap hackers. But that could all be destroyed if a disgruntled network engineer, especially one schooled in SS7, decides to parlay his or her skills on the market. As potentially beneficial as SS7 could be, it could also be our network Armageddon.

As network professionals we must accept the fact that our networks are not truly private. Second, we must build multiple layers of security around our networks, each more complex than the previous one. Third, we must educate ourselves about the risks of security violations. Fourth, we must build safeguards into our networks based on the assumption that our networks will be violated. Finally we must regularly test those safeguards to ensure their operation.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Communications Management
Author:Kirvan, Paul
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:Column
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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