The Internet's Most Perilous Users in 2023

The world has seemed to be perched on a precipice in 2023. There will soon be a presidential election in the United States, and the resurgent contender poses a threat to bring all of the upheaval from 2016 and 2020 with him. With its exponential development curve hinting at immense societal upheaval and promise, artificial intelligence appeared to have materialized out of thin air. Furthermore, the richest man in the world persisted in using his influence to promote a more careless technological environment, from oversold assisted-driving capabilities and free-for-all social media to AI with a "rebellious streak"

Amidst this uncertainty, the slow-burning horrors of Russia's invasion of Ukraine were augmented by new atrocities in a battle between Israel and Hamas. Propaganda, hate speech, and cyberattacks have all been used as echoes of these wars on the internet, with far-reaching real-world consequences. Ransomware gangs also saw a resurgence as a result of the seeds planted by Chinese state-sponsored hackers for a future cyberwar. It was a year of unprecedented chaos, both imminent and actual, all captured in the digital mirror

Every year, WIRED compiles a list of the most dangerous individuals, groups, and organizations that can be found online. This list includes both those who purposefully put innocent people in risk and those whose acts, no matter how well-intentioned, have the potential to seriously disrupt the world as we know it. These are our selections for 2023, not in any particular order

Musk Elon
It might have been reasonable to view Elon Musk a year ago as a bright technologist with sporadic disruptive, trollish inclinations. Those inclinations appeared to take over his public persona in 2023. This year, conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones were welcomed back on Twitter, which was renamed X according to Musk's branding whims. One account's antisemitic remarks were even boosted. In response to complaints from advertising, Musk was able to simultaneously apologize for the error and advise them to "go fuck yourself" in the same discussion

Prior to that, in July, Musk had claimed that the amount of money he made from ads on his social media platform had decreased by half. This raises concerns about if and how this once-essential forum for online discourse would endure Musk's rule

During that collapse, Musk's new venture, xAI, unveiled Grok, an AI chatbot that he praised for having less limitations than ChatGPT from OpenAI. Due to his remarks on the deaths of monkeys during research conducted by his brain implant business Neuralink, Elon Musk is being pressured to launch an SEC probe. Additionally, Tesla fixed an issue with Autopilot in mid-December by recalling almost all of its models sold in the United States. Tesla's safety precautions were deemed insufficient by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to ensure that drivers were paying attention, which many undoubtedly weren't given Musk's own explanations of the assisted-driving feature

Five years ago, Musk's face appeared on the cover of WIRED, which published an article describing his dual personalities of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The dominant half of that divided personality is starting to show these days

In 2023, ransomware made a comeback. The ransomware industry's coercive hacking gangs appear to be on track to earn the second-worst sum of extortion payments ever, according to cryptocurrency firm Chainalysis. However, the creators of the Cl0p malware may have caused more harm than any other organization this year

According to ransomware-focused security company Emsisoft, the Cl0p gang started taking advantage of a zero-day vulnerability in the MOVEit file transfer program in May and utilized it to launch an astonishing wave of assaults across more than 2,000 enterprises. The medical company Maximus was the only victim of the breach and lost control of at least 8 million people's data. An additional 1.3 million pieces of data were stolen by the hackers from the Maine state government. At least 62 million individuals were impacted overall, and Cl0p's hackers are still at large

Though Cl0p may have been the most merciless ransomware hackers of the year, Alphv, also going by Black Cat, was a strong contender. The group, which shares connections with the hackers who attacked the Colonial Pipeline in 2021, rose to prominence in September when it attacked MGM Resorts International. MGM estimates that the group caused $100 million in damage by taking down computer systems throughout the chain of hotels and casinos. In general, the FBI claims that Alphv has gained access to more than a thousand companies and demanded ransom payments totaling more than $300 million

The FBI declared in the middle of December that it had taken control of the dark web page where Alphv posts the stolen information of its victims. When the site resurfaced a few hours later, Alphv boldly said it had "unseized" it and would no longer follow the guideline prohibiting it from attacking vital infrastructure systems. The website was quickly removed once more. But the disruption is certain to continue, as none of the group's members have been taken into custody or even charged in absentia

The Hamas
Nothing in 2023 has rocked geopolitics more abruptly and dramatically than the horrors committed by Hamas on October 7 against civilians in Southern Israel. Following the attacks, which saw 1,200 people dead and hundreds of hostages taken by Hamas terrorists, a war that poses a threat to regional stability broke out right away. In addition, it has caused a stir in the IT community, raising concerns about the digital technologies that have allowed Hamas, given the millions of cash the organization has raised via
cryptocurrency to its Telegram channels, where it posts violent films and propaganda. Every digital platform in the world was compelled to consider whether and how it permitted extremist violence when ISIS rose to popularity in 2014. A fresh bout of horrifying bloodletting ten years later demonstrates how that reckoning is still ongoing

Russia’s group of extremely aggressive military intelligence hackers, known as Sandworm, are still out there and still active in spite of sanctions, charges, and even a $10 million reward. In reality, they seem to have shifted their attention to the fight as Russia's invasion of Ukraine enters its third cruel year

It was discovered last year that Sandworm had launched a third blackout cyberattack against a Ukrainian power service, this time when the same city was being struck by a Russian airstrike. Later, in a more conventional espionage-focused attempt to obtain an advantage during Ukraine's counteroffensive, it breached Ukrainian military communications. Furthermore, evidence suggests that Sandworm was behind a cyberattack that struck the telco Kyivstar just this month, knocking out internet and mobile service for millions of people in the midst of yet another round of attacks. Put another way, the group is still living up to its reputation as the most dangerous hackers working for the Kremlin

Typhoon Volt
The cybersecurity industry has been wondering for years who the "Sandworm of China" might be. This year may have offered the closest thing to a response to date. It was discovered in May that the hacker collective known by Microsoft as Volt Typhoon had infiltrated Guam and the mainland US power grid networks with malware, sometimes seemingly with the intention of managing the supply of electricity to US military installations. The Washington Post has disclosed that Volt Typhoon is also targeting other types of vital infrastructure, including as a major port on the West Coast, a Hawaiian water utility, and an oil and gas pipeline

Although the group's and its overseers' aims remain unclear, cybersecurity and geopolitical specialists increasingly believe that the group is setting the stage to damage critical US networks in the case of a crisis, such China conquering Taiwan

Trump, Donald
For the first time since 2015, Donald Trump did not make our list last year. I hope your break was enjoyable!

The US presidential election of 2024 is less than 11 months away, and Trump is leading Republican primary surveys by a significant margin. He has attacked his alleged adversaries with alarming vigor using his renewed prominence, mostly from his own Truth Social platform, which is controlled by the right side

In posts there, he has pledged to prosecute President Biden and begin federal investigations into media outlets and journalists who write critical articles of him, should he be elected. In addition to accusing his political rivals of instigating the criminal accusations against him for allegedly interfering with elections and improperly handling classified material, he has vented about the spouse of one of the judges supervising a civil trial in which he is facing fraud charges. Furthermore, he has persisted in promoting his debunked claims to have won the 2020 election, which the US Department of Justice argues provided impetus for the January 6, 2021, Capitol storming

More importantly, Trump's supporters might be open to hearing all of this. That implies that it could contribute to the inauguration of a new administration that would abandon the Paris Climate Agreement, implement a “Muslim ban” and a family separation policy at the border, undermine pandemic safeguards, and downplay the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic while killing hundreds of thousands of Americans. Once more, here we go

Defense Forces of Israel
Following Hamas' invasion of Israel, on October 7, Israel's military has retaliated with attacks that have resulted in the deaths of at least 20,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children, the displacement of about two million people from Gaza, and the disruption of the region's supply of food, water, and medical supplies. Additionally, it has occasionally cut off Gaza's internet and phone service, resulting in a near total information blackout, all the while claiming to be utilizing same means of communication to alert residents about coming strikes on their homes

Amid all of this, Israel's propaganda apparatus has been at work molding public opinion regarding its military actions. From IDF-sponsored tweets endorsing its campaign in Gaza to Israeli accounts even going so far as to assert that Palestinian deaths were staged using dolls designed to resemble dead infants, the propaganda machine has been at work shaping public opinion. All of that has contributed to stifling international criticism of the IDF's operations even if the number of casualties from its battle with Hamas is orders of magnitude more than those from Hamas' atrocities on October 7

Sam Altman
It takes only a few years to become the CEO of a firm that is arguably at the forefront of the race to produce the most disruptive technology ever imagined, making you one of the most dangerous persons alive, not just this year but ever. Putting that minor detail aside, Altman may initially appear to be the most amiable individual suitable to lead OpenAI. Surprisingly, he has decided not to purchase any stock in the business. In legislative hearings and interviews, he makes the case for further government control of AI. He seems sincere in his belief that humanity would prosper in a post-singularity world

However, the brief and spectacular power struggle that occurred within OpenAI in November revealed a less comforting aspect of the company's CEO and the newly formed power structure that surrounds him. In the past, Altman had maintained that OpenAI's unique organizational structure—a nonprofit running a for-profit business—offered a kind of self-control that would limit the company's technological aspirations while also promoting safety. However, the leash broke when Altman was sacked by OpenAI's board and swiftly regained control of the business while dismissing numerous board members, including two effective altruists with a strong ethical bent. In this new era, Microsoft, his $2.8 trillion corporate ally and investor, along with one man and his executive team, now fully rule OpenAI

So let's hope that his vision for this world-flipping technology is well-executed. It will be very difficult to stop him in either case

Assassin Sparrow
In the realm of cybersecurity, the group going by the name Predatory Sparrow—a translation from the Persian Gonjeshke Darande—is not well-known. But when it launched a cyberattack on many Iranian businesses in 2022, including a steel plant, claiming—and posting footage to support its claims—that it had inadvertently caused a fire there, it alarmed observers. The gang, who identify as hacktivists but whom the Iranian government has accused of having ties to Israel, also released a number of papers that were taken in previous hacks and which the hackers said showed the companies' affiliations with the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps

Following the Israel-Hamas conflict, Predatory Sparrow has launched a second significant hack against Iran, allegedly taking down up to 70% of the nation's gas stations as Houthi rebels fire Iranian missiles at Israel. This is definitely one to watch

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