The subject of SBS Viceland’s newest project is relevant to every citizen of the digital world: cyberwarfare.
Ben Makuch is the host of the new show, Cyberwar, which taps into the geopolitics of hacking and surveillance, with Ben travelling the world to meet with hackers, government officials, and dissidents to investigate the ecosystem of cyber warfare.
From the infamous Sony hack to the Syrian Electronic Army, it’s happening all around us, and he investigates the most significant computer security issues of our time.
We spoke to Ben about the series, and its potential ramifications for the digital landscape. Cyberwar is on SBS VICELAND at 9:30pm every Thursday and also available for catch up online at SBS On Demand.
Mark Zuckerberg posted a photo earlier this year which included a shot of his laptop. In this photo, his laptop’s microphone and camera were clearly covered up – and he’s not the only tech-savvy person to do so. What do you think he was worried about?
If you’ve read the story of Edward Snowden, he typed his passwords on his computer under a sheet to make sure no prying eyes could catch them. Hacking into personal laptops and hijacking microphones is not only the tradecraft of spies and state agents, but average blackhat hackers. It’s not even a particularly tough hack. It can really happen with the click of a malicious link in a phishing email scheme. Look into something called DarkComet, it’s a pretty easy to use Remote Administration Tool (RAT) that can be really effective.
Where do most virus or hacking attacks originate? Are there any countries that would surprise us with their cyberwarfare capabilities?
Honestly, it’s the big players who are all the best: Russia, China, the US, Britain. That said, a lot of great hackers and coders come out of the former Soviet Union. A lot of people think it’s because of the emphasis the Soviet school system put on mathematics and science, and how well that translates into coding, but for whatever reason — Eastern Europe has some great hackers. Especially Ukraine, some incredible researchers and hackers have come out of it. Including blackhats.
Are most hacking attacks done for political reasons, financial gain or just kicks? Who are the main players/groups in the hacking world? What do they want?
I’d say hacking and large data breaches happen for every real world reason: espionage, war, theft, trolling, stalking. I could go on. The main players are also just as vast as the real world: spies, governments, criminal blackhat hackers, creepy dudes spying on people. All sorts. There’s no one type. It’s not like they’re all in their parents basements wearing hoodies. Some are in an office or a coffee shop.
Yahoo recently had 1bn accounts hacked (we’ve been following it on Techly). If giant companies like Yahoo and Sony can be hacked, just how safe is our identity online? Do you have any tips for how the average person can protect themselves online?
I think the best thing to do is two-step verify every social media and email account you’ve got and use a password manager with long alphanumeric passwords. After that, it could really be luck of the draw. Large data breaches can affect all of us. Or you could just do what Vladmir Putin does: stay off the internet completely.
Is it true that governments around the world are trying to put ‘backdoors’ into our phones, laptops and other devices? What sort of implications does that have?
A lot are, including western government agencies like the NSA or the FBI or even the RCMP in Canada. It’s a scary proposition, because if you have a secret key that can break all security for a major piece of software, like, say, an iPhone. It means malicious actors, whether that be a hostile nation or a blackhat hacker, theoretically can too. So once technology is broken, it’s broken for everyone.
With the rise in government surveillance powers, is Big Brother now officially watching?
I think we’re living in a world where our entire lives are on our phones and computers and tablets. The list goes on. And everything can be a spy: every device you own. So yeah, if it’s not the Big Brother state, we’re certainly getting close to it. Especially when governments are constantly arguing to have more and more surveillance powers to see your data.
What cyberwarfare issues are governments most afraid of?
I’d say at this point, after Russia’s alleged intervention in the American election, is if your country can be manipulated by hostile actor using disinformation and large data breaches to skew things in their favour. It’s a very strange new world. After that, IP theft. China has kickstarted their economy by stealing the secrets of foreign corporations and companies. Specifically from the US and its allies.