To my knowledge the Pennsylvania Mennonite-born Landis will go down in history as the first sports star - indeed the first moderately famous person in any field - to be accused of using a computer Trojan for hacking purposes, in a case that has pitted him against the premier French anti-doping lab.
Landis is a controversial figure, having been stripped of his 2006 Tour de France crown after testing positive for a banned substance, so his alleged motivation was to steal documents from the doping lab network for use in his defence against the charges.
Most of these allegations have been around in one form or another for three years or more, but the French have now issued a warrant for his arrest, which suggests there might be more evidence yet to emerge.
Landis and his coach deny any involvement in the hacking, but the Landis Trojan affair deserves to be seen as an interesting moment all the same. Trojans and malware are invariably discussed in relation to organised crime, but there is another, much smaller but potentially interesting use for targeted information theft by individuals rich enough to hire programmers to write a dedicated piece of software.
There have been a few cases over recent years of companies using Trojans to infiltrate and steal from rivals, but mostly these cases exist only as rumours. The Landis affair suggests that the lid is about to be blown on personalised hacking and the rich and famous should be on their guard: you too could be caught.
It is my informed belief that there is a healthy underground in targeted Trojans used to attempt hacks on organisations as varied as tax authorities, legal firms, and the new partners of former spouses. They are inherently hard to detect because anti-virus software can only detect such programs in a generic way which means if they are caught, it is assumed they are simply one among many pieces of unknown malware. In many cases it would take a forensic analysis to spot the intention behind one of these Trojans.
What is driving all of this is no longer computer geekery and that’s why the Landis case is so interesting. It is that in an era of information democracy, information is still massively valuable in constructing reality. Just having it at the right moment can turn fates, even that of mere cyclists, once romantic grease-bound Sunday racers, but now corporate-sponsored global brands on spinning carbon-fibre.
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