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OP-ED: Getting used to hacking

  • Published at 09:22 pm July 7th, 2021
Hacker hacking

What about the ‘known unknowns not be known’?

Donald Rumsfeld passed away at the ripe age of 88 a few days ago. He took along with him narratives that will never be known, of his inside views of working in different capacities with four United States presidents. 

His book Known and Unknown elaborates his basic theories of the known knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns. What he didn’t say was there are also known unknowns that are not be known. Profundity lurks in all of this apparent gibberish.

Little is said about how the perception of technology beyond the internet is such a fallacy, reduced to bits and pieces of largely leaked information. The headlines are made, brave attempts at defending take centre stage, and then Merlin’s magic wand makes it all disappear. Foolproof protection is a publicized assurance not worth the paper written on. 

Hardware, software, malware, and all other “knowns” are basically “known unknowns.” Information, behaviour, attitudes, and traffic are all under surveillance. The safe bet is that more money has been invested in “knowing the unknowns” than the “known knowns.” For every step of refining surveillance, the opposite of bypassing holds true.

Embarrassing expositions of the Pentagon systems being hacked, telephone conversations of world leaders “tapped,” elections being “compromised” have been reported, analysed, and then forgotten. For the John Doe, personal privacy (that no longer exists anyway) being compromised and hacked is happening on a daily basis. Those that do so have either financial or character assassination in mind. 

Behavioural tracking by social media platforms sell out valuable information to businesses and under-guise fraudsters while promising “never to share data.” But when big business systems are hacked for ransom or details, it becomes world-level discussion about cyber-attacks and fraud. 

Vladimir Putin denied any such activity in the 2016 US elections during talks with Donald Trump. In his recent parley with Joe Biden over similar attempts in 2020, there was no denial, but a deflection towards “renegades.” Some of these were tracked to individuals in other countries, interviewed, and never heard of again. 

Just one of the known knowns not be be known by all. 

It was Putin on the offensive in the calm statement that there were 50-odd cyber attacks on Russia’s system. Another “unknown known” is that there haven’t been any reports of any Russian systems compromised.

Colonial Pipeline, a US company transporting gas and aviation fuel to southwestern US had to shut down its operations after a ransomware attack in May this year. Order was restored after a $5 million ransom was paid. In recent weeks, major US businesses reported similar attacks. The “known unknowns” were once again not made “known.”

Some five years ago, $81 million was hacked out of Bangladesh Bank’s reserves with the US Fed. The initial enquiry committee report was never made public. Only recently, BBC Bangla reported in detail the external preparation and carrying out of the hack with fingers pointed at North Korea. Kim’s country has a whole bunch of highly skilled, trained, and able individuals that can perform with aplomb. 

The target was the entire billion dollars, thwarted by the inevitable “fatal flaw” in the crime in using a wrongly spelt word. Our finance ministers have defended not making the “known known” public in the interest of recovering the money and allowing the perps to go underground. The BBC was careful in not probing the internal complicity of Bangladesh Bank that was initially identified in terms of leaked passwords. 

However, the systems were corrupted through an innocent CV attachment of a job application by an individual named Russel Ahlan made some time earlier. One individual not named was the person that downloaded the application on to a database.

The Bangladesh Bank has not commented on the BBC report. And a cyber expert, Tanveer Hassan Zoha, who told reporters he knew three of the user IDs used, initially went missing, and resurfaced after a period, and has not been heard of since. 

Another of the “known unknowns not to be known.”

Fraud that victimizes the everyday citizen continues on and offline. Bangladesh’s booming online commerce is offering fraudsters the opportunity that the infamous ML! scams did. The takes may be smaller but then these are difficult times. Allegations against the more established companies have not been defended or condemned by the e-commerce association. The old nursery rhyme has evolved.

“With a hack, hack here

And a hack, hack, there

Here a hack, there a hack

Everywhere a hack, hack”

As for redress. Get used to it, grin and bear it. 

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.

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