By Misha Glenny
The opinions expressed are his own.
Under a proposed new law, the Obama Administration is planning to throw the book at hackers convicted of organized criminal activity or endangering national security.
The maximum sentence for these crimes will be raised to 20 years to reflect how hackers have become “a key tool of organized crime,” with many hackers “tied to traditional Asian and Eastern European organized crime organizations.”
But while law enforcement and the criminal justice system seek to impose ever longer sentences on hackers, they are missing a trick – we need hackers. They are an invaluable asset in the fight against cyber crime and cyber espionage at a time when there is a dearth of IT Security professionals able to deal with this threat.
For the last three years, I have been interviewing and getting to know a variety of cyber criminals – some have been convicted of major crimes, some have got away with it and gone straight, and some are still actively involved in criminal activity. Others, like those associated with groups like Anonymous and LulzSec, are explicated politically motivated.
Most learn to hack in their early teens before they have a fully developed moral compass. Often with exceptional ability in Math and sciences (usually Physics), they hack out of a need to satisfy their boundless curiosity. By the time they reach their late teens, they are too deeply involved in the underworld to extricate themselves.