Ethical Hacker Charlie Miller On Security In The Digital Age | St. Louis Public Radio

Ethical Hacker Charlie Miller On Security In The Digital Age

Aug 15, 2013

There’s tech in your car and tech in your phone. Internet connections in your Xbox and your printer. Convenient. But also a potential conduit to breach your security.

A person with the know-how can even remotely hack into your steering wheel. With his research partner Chris Xavier, Charlie Miller of Wildwood, Mo. recently revealed this vulnerability in cars as part of an enterprise in what he calls "white hat" or "ethical" hacking.

More officially known as a security research specialist, Miller previously worked for the National Security Agency and now works for Twitter. He's something of a celebrity in the world of hackers, for among other things, being the first to remotely hack into an iPhone via a web browser.

As a white hat hacker, Miller works to expose vulnerabilities but not to cause harm. When he found the bug in the iPhone, for example, he exposed the problem only after Apple had fixed it.

"The defining characteristic is basically if you're hurting people or trying to break the law," said Miller of the difference between himself and the more vigilante hacker groups like Anonymous.

"I'm about 130 pounds--I don't think I would do well in prison," he joked. "So I steer clear of that and try to protect people and help people as much as I can."

The reality is that anyone can be hacked, said Miller. You can protect yourself from known vulnerabilities, but the danger lies in the unknown vulnerabilities.

With governments, banks and grocery stores getting hacked, it is easy to become scared of having a digital presence. But it's the same with any new territory, said Miller.

"If you think back to the old West or something, people out there on their homesteads, they would work hard and some criminal might just come in and take it all away. And I think that we're sort of in the same (place) with computers. You work hard and you're still vulnerable," said Miller. "It's scary but all you can do is hope for the best, prepare, back up your stuff, take precautions as much as you can and enjoy the technology."

St. Louis on the Air provides discussion about issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh.