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The ethical hacker.

By Andria Kades

"Seriously you have me at your service for 24 hours and the one thing you want me to hack is someone's Facebook? Not a bank account to get you more money or erase your debt...someone's Facebook account?"

That's 27-year-old Aris Savva for you, incredulous at his friend's requests. Except he's never done any of those things in his life. He's an ethical hacker.

That doesn't mean 'ethical' in the moral sense, though of course he could be, but rather it is a specialised term in the industry for someone who sits on the defence line of a network to protect from any attacks.

Part of Savvas' job description when he flies to the US next month to begin his career is to hack into his own employer's network to spot any weaknesses.

He got started when he was a kid, tinkering with computers, breaking them apart -- much to his parent's frustration.

"Yes, we had a few issues with that," he laughs, but it was a field that always fascinated him.

Bizarrely, he was taught how to hack at university when he went to the UK and obtained a degree in 'ethical hacking and security system design'.

"We learnt how to hack and not leave a trace."

Fascinating though it sounds, the university discontinued the course.

He then completed his masters in computer forensics where he investigated how dangerous chatrooms may be for children and how programs, such as games, could be introduced to teach them to be wary of any predators.

Next month, he submits his PhD on intrusion detection systems.

Learning to hack however is by no means a form of education exclusively provided by universities. Many hackers are self taught and plenty of security breaches have come from teenagers in school.

Even the director of the CIA John Brennan was not immune when his personal email account was hacked last year.

One 15-year-old who said he was part of the six-member group 'Crackas with Attitude' that carried out the attack said they were all under the age of 22.

The attack was according to them superbly easy, ranking it on a scale of one to 10 with a one, with one self purported hacker saying he was probably high while hacking into the account.

Savva says in this day and age nothing is ever 100 per cent secure. As long as there is a human factor involved in setting up the defence there will always be a way to get through it.

While you may be in a cafe scrolling through Facebook after connecting to the wifi, it would take five minutes tops to hack into your data, he adds.

Software now can test a combination of potential passwords to try get into your account without manually trying different possibilities and risking you being alerted of a hack.

The safest thing people can do, Savva says is use a 16-digit password with numbers, symbols and some letters in capital that may take the software five years to crack. But if someone is specifically targeting you, it will take much less time.

Poking around at Cyprus' own security, he says the island is seriously lacking in its computer network security lines.

Banks, the army, the ministry of defence -- those that you might think should have the most digital protection -- Savva says are all way too easy to hack.

"In Cyprus we have one manager for the IT department and when told a system to make the network secure costs e1/47,000, he'll turn around and say e1/4500."

No wonder even hospitals, which contain personal patient data, are superbly easy to access, he says.

Has he ever hacked someone or something before?

Never, Savva insists. But was he never tempted to? The things he could find out only from the touch of his fingertips?

"I haven't simply because I know that once you start, you can't stop. It's very addictive."

If he did hack, what would he target?

Sounding a little bit like the Robin Hood of the digital era, Savva says he'd hack into Cyprus' entire banking system (which apparently "is very easy") and erase people's debt.

He'd also want to find information that could serve to protect people.

"For instance, if I knew about the haircut [March 2103], I would want people to find out about it. Not just the few that did know and took their money out of their country before hand."

Would this kind of hacking count as ethical?

Although the moral compass may be pointing the right way, Savva says such actions are very much illegal -- no matter what intentions are behind them.

"Actually hacking is one of the crimes that's harder to defend than murder because you can't say you didn't know what you were doing. You took very specific steps to achieve a certain goal."

Last year, police had warned the public about a trap they might fall into after it came to the attention an attractive woman would send friend requests through Facebook or Skype.

She would then initiate a video chat and begin stripping, but unbeknownst to them, their PC camera had been hacked and was recording them. A ransom was demanded of them so the video wouldn't be leaked online.

Savva says he traced the hacker to Cote d'Ivoire and handed over the information to police.

This dividing line between ethical hacking and illegal hacking marks two different worlds -- the legal kind and the illegal, but when people see his degree contains the word 'hacking' even though it follows the word 'ethical' they group him in the same category.

"A lot of people in Cyprus don't hire me because they see the word hacker and assume the illegal kind."

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Publication:Cyprus Mail (Cyprus)
Geographic Code:4EXCY
Date:Jun 12, 2016
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