Reformed computer criminals - your country needs you

Summary:And trust me, they really do. Over the last year, the UK and US Governments have had an awful problem in keeping basic data protection rules in check, almost to the point where they may have been broadcasting over the radio minutes of the intelligence committee meetings.

And trust me, they really do. Over the last year, the UK and US Governments have had an awful problem in keeping basic data protection rules in check, almost to the point where they may have been broadcasting over the radio minutes of the intelligence committee meetings.

The UK has had HM Revenue and Customs (the US equivilent equivalent of the tax office people) losing 25 million bank details and sets of personal information by sending two CD's containing the data by standard post, TK Maxx lost 5 million credit card details after its systems were hacked into, our National Health Service lost just under 200,000 confidential medical records, laptops and computers have been stolen from high-profile politicans politicians, the Ministry of Defence lost just over half a million serving armed forces personell personnel records when a laptop got nicked, lets think... oh, and a high ranking intelligence official left protectively marked "TOP SECRET" documents on a train in Surrey.

It's not only there though - in the US, the Bank of New York Mellon lost unencrypted data of 4.5 million customers and was covered up, only surfacing when a law suit broke out. The North Carolina DoR lost Social Security numbers and tax debt owed to the state ("every cloud...") of around 30,000 tax-payers, and I'm sure you're getting bored now - I've proved my point.

According to The Register, over half the population of the UK have had their confidential and private records compromised at some point over the last year. I can't find a statistic for the US, but I can imagine it to be a significant proportion of the population.

Most computer science students worldwide, will have some idea about security, how encryption works, network protocols and those sorts of things. With the knowledge "to do good" with, it implies you could reverse this knowledge and "do bad stuff" with it - hacking for example. Those with enough computer understanding would have hacked at some level, at some point in their lives, and yes, it's normally deemed a bad thing. Not all hackers are bad, mind you - "white hat hackers", defined as:

"...a hacker who identifies a security weakness in a computer system or network but, instead of taking malicious advantage of it, exposes the weakness in a way that will allow the system's owners to fix the breach before it is can be taken advantage by others (black hat hackers.) A white hat hacker may work as a consultant or be a permanent employee on a company's payroll. A good many white hat hackers are former black hat hackers."

Nowadays, a "white hat hacker" is a hobbyist, whereas a "computer forensic scientist" is one who gets paid good money for the same service, as well as more. Karen Price from e-skills UK spoke to the Independent newspaper:

"These courses are helping universities respond to the demand of employers. Cyber crime is growing and the demand for experts is growing with it. Young people will also get useful, transferable skills."

On the right college degree course, you learn all kinds of sleuthy skills, ranging from cryptography, cryptology, reverse engineering, computer investigative analysis, as well as learning the behaviours and types of malware, as well as a general all-round knowledge of law enforcement techniques specialist to your work. There are, of course, the odd kids out there who get it horribly, horribly wrong.

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Because the rise in data protection issues, computer crime, and the advance in technology, having the skills to beat the criminals is a powerful one. Cops in the states may carry sidearms, but armed with a keyboard, a computer forensics expert or "white hat hacker", could well be a more powerful weapon against 21st century criminals.

My government is doing it, your Government will be doing it somewhere - it seems after this terrible year of computer related crime/stupidity, it's a career worth looking into, and something which will be around for quite some years to come.

Edit: a few spelling mistakes, I apologise - the dictionary in "edit mode" didn't pick them up first time round.

Topics: Hardware, CXO

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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