Before transitioning into journalism, Kevin Poulsen, currently a senior editor at Wired, was known as Dark Dante. One of America's best-known hackers, Poulsen was featured on NBC's Unsolved Mysteries (that night, the show's 1-800 number crashed) before police caught up with him. After spending several years in jail, Poulsen reinvented himself as an authority on the technology he once exploited. He now oversees Threat Level, a blog about online privacy and security.
As a preview to the state-side release of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Vanity Fair sat down with Poulsen to ask him about Lisbeth Salander, one of the major characters in the Stieg Larsson trilogy, who apparently (we've never read them) moonlights as a hacker. The best stuff comes at the end of the interview, when Michael Hogan, paranoid that modern-day Dark Dante's could gain access to the nuclear codes, poses a series of hacker scenarios to Poulsen:
That sounds really good. And now, if you'll bear with me, I want to put a couple of scenarios to you and you can say whether they would be easy, medium, or hard to pull off. First: Gaining complete access to the contents of another person's computer.
It depends on the person, but for the average target, that's easy.
Siphoning money out of a series of shell companies and transferring it to a Swiss bank account.
How much money?
A few million.
A few million? Um, medium.
Remotely shutting down the security cameras in a bank.
That's farfetched, but when it's possible, it's medium to hard.
Publishing your own message to the world on the homepage of The New York Times' Web site.
Beaming your image onto the Jumbotron at Yankee Stadium.
It's too specific to give an accurate appraisal, because we don't know the configuration of their Jumbotron. We've seen pranks where digital billboards have been taken over--it's one of those things where hitting a specific target like the Jumbotron at Yankee Stadium could be hard or even impossible, but if your goal is to hit just any vulnerable Jumbotron, then it drops down to feasible and probably medium level of difficulty.
Shutting down the Northeast power grid.
Hard to impossible.
That's a relief. Fixing the Oscars.
You mean they're not fixed?
Read the full interview on Vanity Fair.