Making the cyber world a safer and better place: an interview with W1ntermute

W1ntermute aka Sofya Ivanov is a woman who works in the cybersecurity industry as a network security analyst and open-source intelligence (OSINT) specialist.

This is incredibly challenging. Of course, it’s not that easy in this traditionally male-dominated industry. Women represent only 25 percent of the global cybersecurity workforce in the world, even less are those more inspiring. Therefore, who can inspire us more than a hacker — a Former Electronik Tribulation Army member — that captures, profiles, and reports online sexual predators?

Yes, cyberspace allows people to share information, ideas, create business transcending space and time, often providing some sort of anonymity that the physical world and everyday reality cannot give you.

Nowadays, it’s relatively easy for people to conceal their identities making it tougher to de-anonymize tech-savvy online predators. For this reason, the internet of today is very different from how it was in the past. For one, encryption software is more commonplace than at any other time before.

The potential for Internet-related crimes has accelerated, especially due to the abuse of easily accessible online anonymity tools. Also, factor in the website administrators who ostensibly turn a blind eye to these shady activities and sneaky conversations. Predators lurk everywhere people congregate online.

Chat rooms. Dating apps. Social media. They seduce from the dark and disappear, only to reappear elsewhere. What is worse is that women and children — most of all — are particularly vulnerable to sexual predators, such as pedophiles.

Pedophiles use the trendiest social media platforms to entice their victims. They make use of secure chat clients to trade, sell, and collect media of exploited children, despite the commitment of law enforcement.

Sadly, the “accessibility”, “affordability” and “anonymity” aspects of the internet make it all too easy to facilitate illegal exchanges of child pornography between users. This increases the number of collectors, abusers, manipulators, and distributors. The sheer scope of the child abuse underworld is overwhelming.

An interview with W1ntermute aka Sofya Ivanov: a Female Hacker and a Woman in Cybersecurity

Hi Sofya and thank you for your time with Red Hot Cyber. We’d like to have a little talk with you and learn more about your story as a security analyst but also as a Former Electronik Tribulation Army member.

RHC: Someone told us that you are an ideologist when it comes to the hacking subculture: what are your values?

Sofya: Thanks so much for reaching out to me. I got really excited when RHC offered to interview me! And yes, absolutely I’m a hacker ideologist. I’m so glad you asked about this.

So, ideologically the hacker subculture is kinda messy. Hacktivists for example, generally tend to sling popular terms around like “freedom” and “fighting government corruption” alongside popular sayings we’ve all heard by now, such as “We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We are Many. Expect Us.” But what does any of this mean exactly?

While this sounds like really exciting stuff, it’s completely devoid of any ideological substance and doesn’t really express what they believe, or are supposed to believe, embody, or do. The last part is the most important. It doesn’t really matter what you tell people regarding your beliefs, because what you do says it all.

Hackers generally don’t really follow any particular ideology or code if it isn’t something that’s motivated or inspired by some personal inner desire. Hacktivists desire justice by trying to expose injustices. The cybercriminals we all read about online pretty much demonstrate that their motivation is the desire for illicit gains through exploitation. This is no-brainer stuff. But for some reason nobody really wants to broach these subjects at face value.

Those people who are inspired by curiosity as their motivating factor hack to satisfy an inner desire to learn how things work, which is very self-validating and really empowering! Imagine being told all your life that you’re weird or stupid. As a consequence, you grow up feeling like you don’t belong anywhere. That can be a really low blow against your self-esteem, but hacking has a way of healing a broken sense of identity.

Hacking really is like a journey of self-discovery, and acceptance of who you realize you are on a core level. So yeah, its extremely elating and validating to be able to figure out what’s wrong with a system and to be able to be the one to exploit it and gain access, just as it’s an endorphin rush to figure out how to write a patch to fix a vulnerability in order to keep the bad actors out.

In essence, we discover that we are in fact unique because of the way our minds work, regardless of our differences in motives, which is completely counter to the way most of us were raised or taught. It’s anti-conformity at its core.

As far as ideology is concerned, the best place to start is hacktivism, which is supposed to be a composite of activism and hacking. Hacktivism is a weapon designed to fight for those who are oppressed and a means to express what we believe in an rather aggressive way. When the system isn’t listening, we use computers instead of megaphones.

There are instances when the law just has no real invested interest in a matter or an incident is beyond their reach, and by sweeping it under the rug and ignoring the problem, the oppression increases for want of justice that is both satisfying and meaningful to those who are hurting.

When this happens, people become desperate because they feel their voices aren’t being heard, which in turn makes people become more desperate because they see no rectification in sight. That is why hacktivism exists. We become the last line of defense when no-one else will. That’s why I had to turn to the ETA in the first place. Nobody would listen to me. But hackers listened, and that changed my life.

But because I feel most hacktivists have never truly been adversely affected by any real injustice, they don’t know how to actually defend people in their time of need by using their skills to create lasting results that affect real life….

Curious? Keep reading this article on… Red Hot Cyber

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