Until a hacker brings wreaks havoc on high-profile networks or causes denial of service for major e-commerce companies, the mainstream media makes little noise about these supposed geeks with nothing better to do.

But Dan Verton, author of “Confessions of Teenage Hackers” and senior writer for Computerworld, told an audience Thursday at the B2T Conference that closer attention needs to be paid to these individuals.

He challenged that audience as to whether they viewed 9-11 as a wake up call. “There were signs,” suggested Verton.

Is cyberterrorism next? You bet, he said. That is the subject of his next book.

Verton inferred that people should pay attention to hackers and their subtle behavior changes for indications of an attack upon our economic infrastructure. After all, as National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice has said, “Today the cyber economy is the economy.”

Given the combination of low-cost of equipment and the availability of technology tools, he asked, wouldn’t it be naïve to think that a cyber attack upon our economic infrastructure isn’t possible.

Attendees listened intently to the insights that Verton offered up on the motivations and characteristics of hackers. His book, based upon investigative interviews with FBI agents, psychologists and hackers themselves, portrays some of the most notorious within this underground world.

According to Verton, hackers look like everyday people. They are generally from a mid-to-upper economic status. “They are not social misfits as the media makes them out to be,” he commented. “They are talented–intellectuals who have found a way to short cut the system.”

They are also curious about technology. Many hold strong opinions about the ownership of information and have a real sense of political responsibility, while smaller groups of hackers are angry, racist, anti-government, or even criminal minded. Russia, in particular, was mentioned as a cell with a toxic blend of crime, business and political motivations.

“Actually, hackers think they are doing you a public service by revealing your security vulnerabilities.” Verton said. “I can’t overemphasize enough the importance of patch installations and updates.”

Intent and motivations may vary. But, can intent really look any different when the worst happens? The bottom line is: hackers want to break in because they can; criminals want to enter undetected to commit fraud, theft, espionage, or to enact revenge; cyberterrorists want to destroy vital pillars of infrastructure.

“Hacking is a concept far and wide beyond computers,” Verton emphasized. “They hack life.”

Bringing corporations and governments to their knees is by hack is now considered terrorism according to the US Patriot Act. Teenagers are no exception. It was teenagers who successfully rerouted traffic at 500 military domain names during the Persian Gulf War just as tactical deployment orders were being issued. U.S. officials were convinced the attacks were originating out of Iraq, Verton explains. “It turned out to be two teenagers in California and one in Israel.”

That almost makes the story that Verton tells about the unauthorized use of a “boatload” of customer accounts seem like nothing. The hacker easily accessed the system of a northeastern bank by stealing his mom’s employee login and password from a sticky note in her kitchen.

What’s posted on your frig — or desktop?

For more information, see: “U.S. Cyberdefense Strategy Draft Released”, by Dan Verton, at: