Computer information systems are vulnerable to information invasion by unauthorized users. This is distinct problem at governmental levels where quantities of classified information are kept on computer disks. The possibilities of sabotage intimate that today's high-tech world poses new potential threats to national security.
On the international scale, opportunities for computer espionage due to inadequate safeguards presents a major problem. Computer espionage by foreign governments may encompass military, industrial, economic and commercial objectives, with business firms being the most vulnerable. Inadequate safeguards are almost universally found against computer sabotage.
Crimes involving illegal use of telephones and computers are on the rise as computer literacy and computer access become commonplace at work and in the home. In the UK, the cost of hacking to enterprises is estimated at between £500 million to £2 billion per year. Hacking is reported by 20% of companies responding to a survey.
In November 1999 US citizen Eric Burns, age 19, who used the computer screen name "ZYKLON," was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment after pleading guilty to intentionally hacking a protected computer and causing damage. The defendant admitted that he had hacked and damaged computers in Virginia, Washington state, Washington, D.C., and London, England, including computers hosting the United States Information Agency and NATO pages on the World Wide Web, and the vice-president of the United States' Web page known as "21st Century.gov." Burns designed a program he called "Web Bandit" to identify computers on the Internet that were vulnerable to attack.
Most computer break-ins are harmless and exploratory. A true hacker is not interested in the data they see, but the way the computer works. Their snooping may actually help protect people from invasions of privacy: they prove and publicize that private information may be accessible to unauthorized persons and so they can help deter government agencies to put telephone records, tax data etc. in computers. Hackers can also point out the mistakes of the system operators and the flaws in the security system.