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Georgian computer hacker community proud and growing

By Temuri Kiguradze
Tuesday, July 29
“Just five years ago the term ‘Georgian hacker’ would prompt someone to grin,” says Hammer, a self-described Georgian computer hacker, “but now, the situation is beginning to change.”

This change is noted not only by hackers and webmasters but also by the authorities. There is growing concern at the rise of Georgian hacking, Interior Ministry spokesperson Shota Utiashvili told the Messenger, adding that the there are plans to set up a small department to focus on computer crimes in the near future.

“Every year the number of Georgians interested in hacking and their skill increases,” says Virus C, who claims to be a ‘black hat’ hacker.

The hacker movement is divided into two broad categories he explains—the black hats and white hats.

White hat hackers use their skill to locate weak spots in computer systems and alert the owners.

Their rogue cousins the black hats “have no rules,” Virus C said in an online conversation, breaking into systems for financial gain or simply to cause disruption.

Self-described white hat hacker Hawk says one boundary he will not cross is hacking Georgian websites. Meanwhile Virus C claims that the only rule he follows is “not breaking a machine or system belonging to another black hat hacker.”

But they are agreed that there is no overall code of conduct that Georgian hackers abide by. Instead each hacker determines the rules he follows and the limits he observes himself.

They also say that financial gain is often not a motive for hacking.

“The real hacker doesn’t do it for money,” Hawk says, insisting that it is more about learning new techniques and basking in the glory of an impressive hack.

Sometimes the Tbilisi hacking community swaps cyber space for a more Georgian method of interaction, meeting at a sakhinkle where tales of cracking blogs and hacking the Microsoft website are interrupted by the serving of khinkali and wine.

Attending one of these underground gatherings recently, I noted that most hackers were less than 18 years old, from middle class backgrounds and without jobs.

“One of the rules of our gathering is to at least try not to speak about hacking—we are resting, not working,” one hacker said.

But for a community that claims to abide by few rules it is no surprise that this guideline is often skirted. A traditional Georgian restaurant may consequently be treated to such untraditional toasts as “let’s drink to C++”—a reference to a programming language—or a clinking of beer glasses to the bad fortunes of the country’s biggest internet provider.

As for the skill level of Georgian hackers, most say that Georgians have much to learn, although Virus C says but there are already a number that can be considered “hackers of global quality.”

He himself has developed a reputation as one of the country’s most talented hackers and claims to have designed software that facilitates backdoor access to the well-known Wordpress blog system.

“People still use this program to enter blogs, the owners have not found the bug yet,” he says.

When it comes to Georgian websites, hackers are united in their opinion that the country has an internet security problem.

“It’s not a problem for even a low-class hacker to crack almost any Georgian site. This should change,” says Hammer.

Hawk talks of frequent attacks from Turkish and Russian hackers that exploit Georgia’s cyber vulnerabilities.

The most recent internet attack took down the president’s website from July 19 to July 20, according to internet security watchdog, although the attack was denied by the president’s administration.

Hawk also recalls an incident when hackers from Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia hacked a Georgian entertainment site, but adds that there was no revenge attack in this case.

“They [the Abkhaz] have only two or three web pages—there is nothing to break there. Generally we are far from politics,” he says.

However Abkhaz news agency Apsnypress claimed to have come under attack from Georgian hackers in 2004.

“Hackers have cracked the web page of the official Abkhazian news agency Apsnypress. Apsnypress offers excuses for the inconviences caused by the actions of Georgian hackers,” read a statement from the news agency at the time.

In June 2006 a Georgian “hacktivist” known only as ZED protested Russia’s embargo on Georgian beverages by posting the message “Georgian Wine is The Best” on the main page of a Russian internet shop,

But Georgian hackers are yet to make a significant impact internationally. Steven Adair, a analyst, said he does not “have any specific information on Georgian hackers.”

Meanwhile the hackers themselves are treading both carefully and confidently. “We don’t want to mess with the police,” says Hammer, “but anyway it wouldn’t be so easy to catch us.”