In a nutshell, hackers come in two varieties – those who introduce themselves as hackers and those who don’t. If you meet someone who introduces themselves as a hacker, then they probably don’t understand the true power and resulting danger of being a professional hacker. The self-acknowledged hacker is a cut-and-paste hacker, or a social hacker that managed to figure out a password or two of low clearance logins. They probably haven’t benefited from their ‘hacking’ activities, nor have they uncovered anything really secret or valuable in the process. The best criminals don’t announce that they are criminals – or they’d be incarcerated post haste.
The cream of the crop hackers are extremely secretive, and only a privileged few know how to get in touch with them. These hackers work for the entities that can benefit from stolen information most effectively – governments. Yes, hackers are largely government employees. When you hear that a defense contractor was hacked by the Chinese or the Russians, or the North Koreans, these hackers are working for their country’s government. Certainly they don’t go around announcing that they are government-sponsored hackers. They probably wouldn’t have hands to type with shortly thereafter. These are the real hackers, the super-secret hackers that are super-driven, experienced, educated and most of all discrete.
Even the U.S. government hires hackers. It’s no secret. Yet, the most notorious hacking does happen in secret, and is sponsored by governments. These hacks aren’t for credit card data or even defense secrets, but a much broader, macroscopic mass of information. Governments, even the US government, use hacking techniques to keep tabs on its citizens. Government agencies have supercomputers whose task is to spy on citizens (any and all citizens) by scanning emails and texts for keywords or groups of keywords to identify possible terrorist organizations within our borders. Most would not object to the government trying to find terrorist cells within the US, but the means by which it is done is certainly objectionable, and so is carried out under the table, out of view of the general public.
The truly scary side of this is that since the data is already being corralled, simply changing the search criteria will alter the search results from terrorist cells to right-wing gun owners, or angry evangelicals, or secessionist libertarians. Agencies could probably identify soccer moms if it interested them. Hacking has a far more sinister side than presumed. We are being categorized, sized up and measured by our own governments, all made possible by state of the art government-sponsored hacking.