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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.

Elon Musk

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.

 Clop

In 2023, ransomware made a comeback. The ransomware industry’s coercive hacking gangs appear to be on track to earn the secondworst 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.

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.

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. It has also caused a stir in the IT community, raising concerns about the digital platforms that have allowed Hamas to operate, from the millions of funds the organization has raised through 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.

Sandworm

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. Indeed, it seems as though they have shifted their attention to the crisis involving Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which is now approaching its third cruel year.

Volt Typhoon

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.

Donald Trump

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.

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