Friday, June 10, 2011

Anonymous Arrests Unlikely To Shift Threat Landscape

The arrest of three members of the Anonymous hacking group in Spain may slow idealists, but organized hackers remain a bigger problem. While Anonymous targeted sites like the Sony PlayStation Network, Asian and Eastern European governments appear to be supporting serious data thefts like the recent Citigroup attack.

Spanish police on Friday celebrated the arrest of three men who are allegedly part of the computer Relevant Products/Services hacking group that launched cyberattacks against Sony's PlayStation Network, among others. Spain's National Police said the three were among the local leadership of an international network Relevant Products/Services known as Anonymous, a group of so-called hacktivists who use denial-of-service Relevant Products/Services attacks to bring down web sites.

Anonymous gained fame last year when it issued a hit list of web sites hostile to WikiLeaks. The group went on to attack PayPal and MasterCard, which had stopped donations to WikiLeaks after the U.S. government shut down the site.

Understanding Hacktivists

"The escalating number of attacks and the continuing ability of hackers to apparently be able to get into corporate and government web sites with impunity has really shaken a lot of people up," noted Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT Relevant Products/Services.

"That said, the efforts of groups of independents like the Anonymous group or even WikiLeaks seem to have their roots in the traditional methodology of the hackers that we remember with some fondness from the 90s and later. These are people who were either personally or politically motivated and a bit sociopathic, but their aims are somewhat beyond mere filthy lucre."

The More Serious Threat

Although there's plenty of attention to the arrest of the trio of Anonymous hackers, King said there's a much more formidable presence in the hacking world that's accounting for a greater number of financially damaging attacks. Specifically, he pointed to this week's attack on Citigroup and systematic lootings of intellectual property that are reportedly being supported by Asian and Eastern European governments.

On Thursday, Citigroup reported it "recently discovered unauthorized access Relevant Products/Services to Citi's account online." Citigroup said the hack affected about one percent of its North America bank-card customers. And Google Relevant Products/Services is making headlines in recent weeks with accusations that China is hosting hackers who are tapping into Gmail servers.

"Frankly, I find the danger from financially motivated groups to be considerably larger than anything Anonymous or WikiLeaks is doing," King said. "And it's easier for governments to go after groups like Anonymous because they are operating out in the open. They are wearing little masks. They are making a big deal out of what they are doing and kind of thumbing their noses at the powers that be, so it makes them an easy target."

No Major Deterrent

As King sees it, law enforcement going after groups like Anonymous is almost the equivalent of cops arresting the usual suspects for small crimes while the bigger danger is organized crime rings operating behind the scenes with high levels of sophistication.

"For the government of Spain it's a feel-good moment, and for the three guys they arrested it's not such a feel-good moment," King said. "But I don't expect these arrests to have any material impact either on Anonymous or on the level of threats that living and working online are experiencing these days."

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