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The hackers who penetrated Home Depot's networks didn't seem to care much about Home Depot; they just wanted a large database of credit-card numbers. But a skilled, determined attacker wants to attack a specific victim.

The reasons may be political: to hurt a government or leader enmeshed in a geopolitical battle.

Your reaction to the massive hacking of such a prominent company will depend on whether you're fluent in information-technology security.

If you're not, you're probably wondering how in the world this could happen.

Most attacks are low-skill and low-focus -- people using common hacking tools against thousands of networks world-wide.

These low-end attacks include sending spam out to millions of email addresses, hoping that someone will fall for it and click on a poisoned link.

To understand any given episode of hacking, you need to understand who your adversary is.Earlier this month, a mysterious group that calls itself Guardians of Peace hacked into Sony Pictures Entertainment's computer systems and began revealing many of the Hollywood studio's best-kept secrets, from details about unreleased movies to embarrassing emails (notably some racist notes from Sony bigwigs about President Barack Obama's presumed movie-watching preferences) to the personnel data of employees, including salaries and performance reviews.The Federal Bureau of Investigation now says it has evidence that North Korea was behind the attack, and Sony Pictures pulled its planned release of "The Interview," a satire targeting that country's dictator, after the hackers made some ridiculous threats about terrorist violence.S.; Turla, a piece of malware that many blame on the Russian government; and a huge snooping effort called Ghost Net, which spied on the Dalai Lama and Asian governments, leading many of my colleagues to blame China. This category also includes private actors, including the hacker group known as Anonymous, which mounted a Sony-style attack against the Internet-security firm HBGary Federal, and the unknown hackers who stole racy celebrity photos from Apple's i Cloud and posted them.(We're mostly guessing about the origins of these attacks; governments refuse to comment on such issues.) China has also been accused of trying to hack into the New York Times in 2010, and in May, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the indictment of five Chinese military officials for cyberattacks against U. If you've heard the IT-security buzz phrase "advanced persistent threat," this is it.

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