The most dangerous people on the Internet in 2023

3 January 2024 10 minutes Author: Lady Liberty

Discover the most dangerous people of 2023. We will dive into profiling key figures who pose significant threats in a variety of areas including cyber security, politics and global security.

Who are these people?

In 2023, the world felt like it was teetering on a precipice. The United States presidential election is approaching and a candidate is making a resurgence that threatens to bring all the chaos of 2016 and 2020 with it. Artificial intelligence was advancing so rapidly that it seemed to emerge out of nowhere, heralding enormous societal prospects and disruption just around the corner of its exponential curve. And the world’s richest man has continued to use his power to push for a more reckless world of technology, from free social media and oversold driver-assistance features to artificial intelligence with a “rebel streak”.

In the midst of this uncertainty, a new war between Israel and Hamas has added more brutality to the horrors of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These wars have reverberated online with propaganda, hate, and cyberattacks that have had massive real-world consequences. Chinese state-sponsored hackers, meanwhile, have sown the seeds of future cyberwarfare, and ransomware gangs have been reborn. It was a momentous year of chaos, present and future, all reflected in the digital mirror.

Elon Musk

A year ago, it might have been fair to think of Elon Musk as a brilliant technologist with occasional destructive, trollish tendencies. In 2023, these tendencies seemed to take over his public identity. Twitter, now renamed X thanks to Musk’s branding quirks, has reinvited conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones this year and even ramped up one account’s anti-Semitic claims. When advertisers complained, Musk managed to apologize for the mistake in one conversation and tell them, “Go to hell.”

Earlier in July, Musk said ad revenue for his social media platform had fallen in half, raising questions about whether and in what form the once central platform for online conversation would survive under Musk.

In the midst of this debacle, Musk’s new startup xAI released Grok, an AI chatbot that Musk touted as having fewer fences than OpenAI’s ChatGPT. Musk is facing calls for an SEC investigation over his comments about how monkeys died in experiments conducted by his brain implant startup Neuralink. And in mid-December, Tesla recalled almost all models of its cars sold in the US to fix the Autopilot function. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that Tesla’s safety measures to ensure drivers were paying attention (and many undoubtedly weren’t, perhaps thanks in part to Musk’s own description of the driver assistance feature) were inadequate.

Cl0p

In 2023, ransomware resumed. According to cryptocurrency firm Chainalysis, this year looks set to be the second-worst year on record for extortion payouts collected by the ransomware industry’s coercive gangs of hackers. But perhaps no group has done more damage this year than the people behind the Cl0p malware.

In May, the Cl0p gang began exploiting a zero-day vulnerability in the MOVEit file transfer software and used it to launch a shocking series of intrusions into more than 2,000 organizations, according to ransomware firm Emsisoft. One victim, the medical firm Maximus, lost control of the data of at least 8 million people as a result of the breach. Hackers stole another $1.3 million worth of Maine government data. In total, at least 62 million people have been affected, and the Cl0p hackers remain at large.

Alphv

If Cl0p were the most brutal extortion hackers of the year, Alphv, also known as Black Cat, was certainly in close contention. A group linked to the hackers who carried out the 2021 Colonial Pipeline cyber attack gained a new level of notoriety in September when it targeted MGM Resorts International, shutting down computer systems at the chain’s hotels and casinos and ultimately making off with $100 million . estimated by MGM. More broadly, the FBI alleges that Alphv compromised more than a thousand organizations and received more than $300 million in ransoms.

In mid-December, the FBI announced that it had taken down a dark web site where Alphv was posting the stolen data of its victims. A few hours later, the site reappeared, and Alphv defiantly announced that it had “unblocked” it and would no longer follow the policy of not targeting critical infrastructure systems. Soon the site was closed again. But given that no member of the group has been arrested or even charged in absentia, its mayhem is likely to continue.

Hamas

No event in 2023 has shaken geopolitics more suddenly and shockingly than Hamas’s atrocities against civilians in southern Israel on October 7. The attacks, in which Hamas militants killed 1,200 people and took hundreds hostage, immediately sparked a war that threatens to destabilize the region. It also rocked the tech world, where it raised questions about the digital technologies that have built Hamas, from the millions of dollars the group has raised through cryptocurrency to its Telegram channels, where it spreads propaganda and videos of its violence. When ISIS came to prominence in 2014, it forced every technology platform in the world to question whether and how it was contributing to extremist violence. Now, a decade later, a new round of gruesome bloodshed shows how that payback continues.

Volt Typhoon

For years, the cybersecurity community has wondered who the “Chinese Sandworm” might be. This year gave, perhaps, the closest answer. In May, it was discovered that a group of hackers Microsoft called Volt Typhoon planted malware on power grids in the continental US and Guam, in some cases with the apparent aim of controlling the flow of electricity to US military bases. More recently, The Washington Post found that Volt Typhoon targets also extended to other types of critical infrastructure, from an oil and gas pipeline to a major West Coast port and Hawaii’s water supply.

While the intentions of the group and its overseers are still far from clear, cybersecurity and geopolitical analysts increasingly see it as a framework for disrupting key U.S. systems in the event of a crisis, such as a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

Donald Trump

Last year, for the first time since 2015, Donald Trump did not make it to this list. I hope you enjoyed the break!

With the 2024 US presidential election less than 11 months away, Trump is leading the Republican primary polls by a wide margin. He has used his resurgent relevance to launch disturbing attacks on his apparent enemies, mostly from his own right-wing-dominated platform, Truth Social.

While in office there, he promised, if elected, to launch federal investigations into media companies and journalists who criticize him, and to hold President Biden accountable. He spoke out about the wife of one of the judges who oversaw the civil trial against him on fraud charges, and blamed his political opponents for the criminal charges he faces on charges of election meddling and mishandling classified information. And he continues to promote his discredited 2020 election victory claims, which the US Department of Justice says contributed to the January 6, 2021 storming of the US Capitol.

What’s more, all of this could find a receptive audience among Trump’s base. That means it could help usher in the next presidency that has pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, implemented a “Muslim ban” and family separation border policies, eliminated pandemic protections, and denied the seriousness of Covid-19 as hundreds of thousands of Americans died. Here we are again.

Israel Defense Forces

Since October 7, the Israeli military has responded to Hamas’s incursion into Israel with attacks that have killed at least 20,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, displaced nearly 2 million Gazans, and cut off the flow of food, water and medicine to the region. He has also at times cut off telecommunications and the Internet in Gaza to leave it in a near-total information blackout, even as he claims to use those communications tools to warn civilians of impending attacks on their homes.

Amidst all this, the Israeli propaganda machine has worked to shape a public narrative about its military operations, from IDF promotional tweets in support of its Gaza campaign that appeared on X to Israeli accounts that went so far as to claim that Death Palestinians were staged using dolls that looked like dead babies. All of this has played a role in stifling global criticism of the IDF’s actions, even though the death toll in the war against Hamas far exceeds the number of Hamas atrocities on October 7.

Sam Altman

Running a company that is arguably leading the race to develop the most disruptive technology ever imagined is enough to qualify anyone as one of the most dangerous people not just this year, but in human history. That little bit aside, at first glance, Altman might seem like the most affable person you could imagine as CEO of OpenAI. Strangely enough, he chose not to have any stake in the company. In interviews and at congressional hearings, he advocates for stronger government regulation of AI. He seems to genuinely believe in a prosperous future for humanity in a post-singular world.

But a brief and dramatic power struggle in November inside OpenAI revealed a less encouraging side of the company’s leader and the newly consolidated power circle around him. Altman has argued in the past that OpenAI’s odd structure, with a nonprofit overseeing a for-profit company, offers a form of self-restraint that keeps the company’s technological ambitions on a leash. But when OpenAI’s board fired Altman, and he almost immediately regained control of the company while ousting several board members, including two effective, ethically oriented altruists, the leash snapped. In this new era, OpenAI is now under the firm control of one man and his executive team, as well as Microsoft, its corporate ally and $2.8 trillion investor.

So let’s hope his plan for the future of this groundbreaking technology is successful. In any case, it will be very difficult to stop him.

Predatory Sparrow

The group, which calls itself Predatory Sparrow, translated from the Persian Gonjeshke Darande, is hardly a household name in the cyber security world. But in 2022, she caused alarm when she launched a cyber attack on several Iranian companies, including a steel plant, where she claimed — and released a video to show — that she had somehow caused a fire at the facility. The group, which calls itself hacktivists but which the Iranian government says is linked to the state of Israel, also released a collection of documents stolen in the hacks that the hackers said revealed the companies’ ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Now, in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war, and with the Houthi rebels firing Iranian missiles at Israel, the Predatory Sparrow has launched a second major cyber attack against Iran, this time reportedly knocking out 70 percent of gas stations across the country. It will be something to watch.

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