If movies are to be believed, hackers are mostly kept busy fighting the man with CGI animations of smiley faces, or else dwelling in the darkest corners of their mothers' basements and doing purely nerdy stuff that never affects the real world. But neither assumption is true: Hacking does not look like a rad skateboarder busting a kickflip over an onyx tower, and hackers do gain access to things that can affect your daily life ... and sometimes, even end it.
#8. Explode Your Genitals
We think we have a pretty good idea of what hackers are capable of: stealing your personal information, crashing your computer, Rollerblading like a sonofabitch and making out with Angelina Jolie (back when she was hot, before her alien DNA kicked in and she started looking like a hawk-monster).
But today's hackers have finally crossed a line, and must be terminated with extreme prejudice. The offense? They're trying to destroy your wang.
"The good news is that your leg is going to be fine ..."
The newest MacBooks contain batteries with small monitor chips installed. It's such a discreet addition that Apple didn't feel the need to secure it, which of course means that hackers everywhere had to immediately set to work exploiting it. It gets pretty technical, but the gist of the process is this: The software uses a default password, which is the same in every single MacBook. By reverse engineering the firmware, hackers can render the battery useless or inject malware into the system through the chip (and you couldn't even wipe your hard drive and reformat the system to get rid of it, because you probably won't think to check your battery for a virus).
"Is it enough to Sharpie 'Avira' onto them?"
Or, if they're feeling particularly villainous, they could just overheat the battery of your laptop (so named because it sits on top of your lap, which, you'll recall, is where you keep your junk) to the point of bursting into flames or exploding. That's right: Hackers are after your penis.
There is just no version of that sentence that is anything less than terrifying.
"Definitely that guy. You don't play a druid without repercussions."
#7. Cut Your Car's Brakes
Security specialists at the University of Washington and the University of California have shown that new cars with computer systems onboard face a real security threat from hackers. These scientists were able to gain control of two vehicles and operate more than a dozen functions while the cars were in motion. This included things like braking, selective braking of each wheel (thus effectively "steering" the car) and shutting off the engine completely. Scarier still is that once they gained control of the vehicles, driver input was totally ignored: The pedals, wheel and switches all had no effect. They were also able to launch a "composite attack," in which the malicious software would be erased after a crash, effectively leaving no evidence of tampering.
Just a quick flash of smoke followed by confusion and a throwing star.
Being vehicular-manslaughtered by cyberwarriors is the worst case scenario, of course.
It's far more likely that these exploits will be used to simply steal the cars. Experts are predicting that the future of car theft is a split venture, with hackers selling their services to car thieves by providing them with the GPS location of the vehicle, then unlocking the door and starting the engine remotely so the thieves can drive off with it. Possible points of entry for a car hacker are through Bluetooth, a cellular network, the freaking tire pressure monitor and even music files. Yes, the next song you download could be your last, if the wrong hacker has been into it. So while we agree that Journey's Greatest Hits is indeed a sweet album that you totally need for that road trip, you have to ask yourself the question: Is it worth dying for?
We'll never stop believin'.
(The answer is yes, obviously.)
#6. Control a Nuclear Power Plant
When Scott Lunsford, a researcher for IBM's Internet Security Systems, told the owners of an American nuclear power station that he could hack into their system through the Internet, they laughed in his face. They told him that he couldn't do it; that it was "impossible." Then they left to look up the word "hubris" in the dictionary while Lunsford hacked the holy shit out of their systems. It took his team less than a day to infiltrate and less than a week to take full control of the nuclear power station. He claimed it was "one of the easiest penetration tests" he had ever performed.
We're pretty sure he was talking about the colons of the owners.
While he couldn't have caused anything like a meltdown, Lunsford is still convinced that if he had been inclined, he could have done some significant damage within the system. All it would have taken was simply "closing a valve" to shut off power to most of a city. The particular system Lunsford hacked to gain control of the plant is powered by something called SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) software, and the bad news is that so is most of the rest of America's infrastructure. SCADA controls things like water filtration plants and subway networks all across the nation, and its security is becoming weaker by the day, mostly due to ever-increasing Internet connectivity. Lunsford imagines a variety of catastrophic possibilities if cyber-terrorists ever learned of these exploits in the SCADA system, like he just did, and like we're telling you about right now (uh ... sorry, America).
Eh, New York doesn't need electricity anyway.
#5. Use Your Computer Screen as a Two-Way Mirror
Odds are that if you're reading this, you have a Webcam pointed at you right now and -- NO DON'T LOOK AT IT! Just be cool, OK? Act natural ...
Most likely, there's nobody watching you. We assume even bored hackers have better things to do than watch someone play Call of Duty and distractedly drop Fritos on their underwear. But if a hacker ever did want to gain control of your Webcam to spy on you, it's very doable. In fact, improperly or entirely unsecured Webcams have entire sites devoted to them: Here's a whole subreddit of controllable Webcams that you're going to lose an entire afternoon clicking on, just because you can.
They've been standing like that for six hours. And it is so hot.
Webcam manufacturers are well aware of this problem, too. Companies like Logitech are already fitting their Webcams with privacy shields (a fancy term for "lens caps") to protect their users against unwanted access. As far as a motive for this kind of invasion of privacy, there are few reasons to hack a civilian's personal Webcam short of spying on women changing ... aaaand that's exactly what the majority of cases turn out to be.
Don't let this stop you from watching that True Blood torrent during your weekly underwear pillow fight.
So if you're an attractive woman reading this and you're worried about your privacy, check for the LED indicator next to your Webcam to see when it's active. And, uh ... maybe send us a thank you message for introducing this vital information to you, and then just continue about your normal business: checking your email topless.
Bras make for a suboptimal Internet experience.