In the age of innocence, hackers would break into security systems and computer terminals as a test of their abilities – usually without causing irreparable damage. Much has changed since those days. With the spread of the Internet, hacking skills have been acquired by people whose motives and activities are no different from those of common criminals. Money-laundering, theft, sabotage and espionage have been the results. Research carried out this year in Europe and America revealed that 83 percent of firms and organizations have been on the receiving end of an electronic break-in, as compared to 39 percent two years ago. Forty percent of those who were attacked suffered severe economic losses, running to tens of millions of euros. «Organized crime has merged with e-crime. Fraudsters and even terrorists use the technology to further their aims. The Internet gives them the opportunity to act effectively and hide easily,» says Giorgos Romanos, managing consultant of the Internet security company MD5. Criminals are constantly developing new ways and means of breaking into computer systems – «They’re always one step ahead,» say experts. But experience up till now shows that the most common methods of Internet piracy are as follows: – A concerted attack on a company’s web page, which is blocked or ceases to function altogether as a result. – Finding weaknesses in the company’s operating system and exploiting them in order to enter its internal network. – Sending a contaminated e-mail message to an individual user. As soon as they try and read the message, they automatically download a program that allows the sender to acquire total control of the computer. – Sending a message with a deceptive title and content (e.g. the message appears to be from a bank) with the aim of beguiling the computer user into revealing sensitive personal data. Real cases The majority of cases of electronic fraud recorded in the last two years in Greece and abroad were carried out using one or more of the above methods. In mid-September, Greek users of the Internet found in their inbox a message which purported to be from Citibank and which asked them for their bank account number. Quite a few fell into the trap and discovered the next day that their bank accounts had been cleaned out. On the other side of the Atlantic, an unknown hacker broke into a bank’s network, netting the credit card numbers of 900,000 clients. By charging each card $20 a month, he or she managed to make a profit of $40 million. Back in Greece, hackers broke into the network of two large credit organizations, making off with a few million. In August this year, someone managed to hack their way into a database of the University of California at Berkeley, giving them access to the personal details (social security numbers, addresses, etc.) of up to 1.4 million state residents, who were only informed on October 19. In order to protect their good names, companies and public bodies do not disclose incidents of hacking. If they did, the list would be endless.