Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

The Honest Truth: The bizarre world of hacking, Bitcoin and the war started by Tom Cruise

© SYSTEMTom Cruise in Minority Report
Tom Cruise in Minority Report

Cybercriminals find new and innovative ways to steal everything from personal information to bank account details. But just how did the internet become a home for hackers?

Here, author and journalist Geoff White tells Alice Hinds the Honest Truth about the history of hacking:


How much do cybercriminals steal each year?

Cybercrime now accounts for more than half of all criminal offences in the UK, and Get Safe Online, a UK Government-backed advice service, says cyber fraud costs businesses more than £1billion every year.

Why is the collapse of the USSR linked to a rise in cybercrime?

The Soviet Union had a long history of promoting science and technology, and by the ’90s millions of its youngsters were studying tech and engineering. But as its economy flatlined after the break-up of the USSR, those tech-savvy youngsters often struggled to get suitable jobs. At the same time, online commerce was booming, and security was still playing catch-up. And so, a small minority of youngsters turned to cybercrime.

What was the Bulletin Board System? And why was it important for the spread of hacking?

The Bulletin Board System (BBS) was an early form of online chat. Users could leave messages and response to others’ posts and it was where the first techies hung out, so a lot of early hackers swapped knowledge. In those days there wasn’t much money to be made from cybercrime, but BBS was where the spirit of hacking was first thrashed out.

Why was musician John Perry Barlow visited by the FBI during online crime investigations?

Barlow was the lyricist for hippie group The Grateful Dead, and an early fan of BBS life. When an electronic file was stolen from Apple, Barlow came under suspicion. An FBI agent visited his ranch in 1990, and Barlow recounts the bizarre experience of having to explain to the agent the basics of the very computer technology the agent was supposed to be investigating. “You know things have rather jumped the groove when the potential suspects must explain to law enforcers the nature of their alleged perpetrations”, Barlow later wrote.

Has the invention of online currency Bitcoin enabled more hacks to take place?

There’s no question that Bitcoin, a radical new form of digital money, has fuelled a large amount of cybercrime. Early on, it was the currency of the “dark web”, a hidden network rife with criminality. Bitcoin has also enabled hackers to launch ransomware, in which victims’ files are scrambled, and they’re then charged a ransom (usually in Bitcoin) to recover them.

People think of cybercriminals only attacking bank accounts and emails – but is it true hackers could bring down the electrical grid?

Sadly, yes. In 2015 and 2016, hackers cut power to hundreds of thousands of homes in Ukraine, in attacks on its electricity distributors.

It happened in the middle of a conflict with Russia, leading many to suspect Kremlin hackers were behind it – accusations Russia has denied. Cybersecurity firms have discovered criminals targeting the UK’s energy network, hacking into companies who supply the industry with kit and personnel. There’s no suggestion the UK was on the verge of being plunged into darkness, but it’s a worrying new frontline in the cyber battle.

Any particularly memorable factoids you discovered?

Tom Cruise inadvertently sparked a cyberwar!

The Hollywood actor was well known as a scientologist, and a video was leaked in which he talked about the religion in seemingly bizarre terms. The Church of Scientology tried to stop the video being published online. The Anonymous hacking movement (the folks who often wear Guy Fawkes masks) saw that as censorship, something they vehemently disagreed with. So, they attacked the Church of Scientology, which was predictably robust in its response…

Crime Dot Com: From Viruses To Vote Rigging, How Hacking Went Global by Geoff White, Reaktion Books, £18.99, is out now