Why Are Hackers On The 'TIME' Person Of The Year Short List For 2016? Good Or Bad, They Helped Shape The Year
Perhaps not quite as head-turning — although still as curious — as TIME's pick for Person of the Year is a group of people who made the short list: Hackers. Why are hackers on the TIME Person of the Year short list for 2016? These are people many of us typically fear. We worry about identity theft and credit card fraud. We worry about our names, addresses, and other sensitive information being used in less than honorable ways. And although that's certainly not all hackers do, it's often the things we hear about the most. So: What gives?
It's important to remember that people don't necessarily make this list because they've caused a world of good. As Nancy Gibbs wrote in TIME's piece explaining the choice of Donald Trump as the Person of the Year, "This is the 90th time we have named the person who had the greatest influence, for better or worse, on the events of the year." Therein likely lies the reason why hackers have gotten a nod: Person of the Year isn't an award; it's not necessarily an honor, and it's not reserved for the people who do the most good in the world. Someone having the "greatest influence" on the world doesn't always mean they left it in a better condition than they found it.
While the past year's memories of hackers may be so favorable, they're certainly memorable, to say the least. Sometimes it felt like we barely went a week without hearing about some kind of breach, and often the record-setting kind. The news was fairly regularly flooded with stories of break-ins and leaks, so let's recap:
In 2016, hackers infiltrated the systems of several government agencies. They at least attempted to steal (if not succeeded to steal) data from the likes of LinkedIn and Yahoo. They hacked into and revealed confidential medical information from athletes like the Williams sisters and Simone Biles. They leaked private photos of celebrities like Leslie Jones. And the list goes on. Look at this year's election alone. All kinds of curiously revealed documents and leaked emails were sprinkled throughout the cycle, and questions surrounding the validity of the vote count itself still abound.
It's important to note that, regardless of how many times the "evil" hacker trope appear in the media, not all hackers are the same. As TIME points out, some have good intentions, while others want to cause trouble (just like, y'know, the non-hackers of the world). Some are state-sponsored, and some come from terrorist organizations. Some are out to fight for truth and freedom; others, not so much. There are hackers like the group OurMine, which was able to break into the accounts of Mark Zuckerberg, of all people. Luckily, OurMine has demonstrated to be more a security company that helps people, as opposed to harm your online privacy.
Then, we had state-sponsored hackers break into a network used by Hillary Clinton's campaign — posing a much more serious threat. Hackers were able to break into more than a million Google accounts after infecting Android phones that had downloaded illegitimate apps.
All of this is more than enough to rattle the American public. A 2014 survey found that Americans' worst fear is having their credit card information taken by hackers. And the statistics are startling, to say the least: Approximately 75 percent of Americans have been victims of cyber crime; 47 percent have had their information leaked; 80 percent of businesses experienced some kind of hack over the last year; and more than 27 million Americans fell prey to identity theft in the last five years — a whopping nine million of those in the last year alone.
The money at risk as soon as hackers enter the picture is also mind-blowing, but more so for businesses as opposed to individuals. The average ransom demand this year for individuals trying to get back hijacked information was $679. While this adds up to around $1 billion for the year, it's chump change compared to the $400 billion businesses stand to lose.
It's pretty easy to see why TIME felt hackers deserved a spot on the short list. For better or worse, they've definitely left their mark over the last year.