There's Now A Cottage Industry Of People Hiring Hackers For Petty Espionage


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REUTERS/Rebecca Naden

Hacking is so mainstream nowadays that even the most tech-illiterate person can break into his boss' email address.


While everyone's focusing on major hacking scandals like Sony and Nasdaq, there's also a flourishing "cottage industry" of people hiring hackers for espionage - basically like TaskRabbit for petty espionage.

"A new website, called Hacker's List, seeks to match hackers with people looking to gain access to email accounts, take down unflattering photos from a website or gain access to a company's database," The New York Times reports. "In less than three months of operation, over 500 hacking job have been put out to bid on the site, with hackers vying for the right to do the dirty work."

Hackers do their thing anonymously, while the website holds payments in escrow until the tasks are completed.

Prices for services ranged from $100 to $5,000 over the past few days, according to the NYT, which is very affordable for the average joe.


There are four main takeaways from the mushrooming hackers-for-hire industry:

1) Hacking isn't just for spies and terrorist groups anymore.

High-profile hacking, such as a the JP Morgan or Sony hack is an incredible challenge for law enforcement officials - which suggests that small, under-the-radar hacking will be even more difficult.

2) By hiring a hacker, even someone without any knowledge of cybersecurity can now hack someone.

"Hackers for hire can permit nontechnical individuals to launch cyberattacks with a degree of deniability, lowering the barriers to entry for online crime," Thomas G. A. Brown, a senior managing director with FTI Consulting and former chief of the computer and intellectual property crime unit of the United States attorney's office in Manhattan, told the NYT.


3) "Ethical hackers" is a sticky concept.

Companies have been hiring cybersecurity experts to figure out where there might be holes in their network security (and cybersecurity experts employed at financial firms have seen their salaries go through the roof).

Additionally, there's another website called NeighborhoodHacker, which describes itself as a company of "certified ethical hackers" that works with customers to "secure your data, passwords and children's safety," according to the NYT.

In both cases, it's hard to draw the line between how far an "ethical hacker" can go before they're doing something illegal.

4) And finally, it's going to get really complicated on the legal end of things.

  • "Some experts say it is not clear whether Hacker's List is doing anything wrong in serving as a meeting ground for hackers and those seeking to employ them," reports the NYT.
  • It's unclear whether the hacker or the person who hired the hacker would be implicated in the crime.
  • And hackers/those hiring hackers/the person hacked could all be based in different countries, which could make it difficult to charge someone.

The big takeaway: Hacking is increasingly becoming more and more mainstream, which is going to make things really muddy.

If you are interested in reading more about the website Hacker's List, you can head to the New York Times report here.