Hack Attacks: Just how worried should you be?

Google, Citibank, Fox, Sony… No, not a list of the world’s biggest businesses, but just some recent targets of so-called ‘hack attacks’. While these targeted and highly publicized hack attacks have generally been unrelated, they have been very alarming, not just for the targets’ customers, but for everyday users. What are these attacks really about? How do they affect ordinary users like you? And do they signify a ‘new era of terrorism’ where malicious individuals can drastically affect lives with a few keystrokes?

Let’s start by understanding a basic truth – hacker groups are not new. Back in the 1980s and the early days of personal computing and the Internet, renegade groups such as the Legion of Doom, the Cult of the Dead Cow, and the Masters of Deception flourished. These groups served as forums where members could share knowledge and information as well as learn and compare skills.

Like their contemporaries, they saw hacking as a means of activism, a way to rebel, and as a method to draw attention to themselves. They also dabbled in abusing public telecommunications networks, and exploiting holes and glitches in early technologies in order to create mischief on the local front.

After profiling their predecessors, let’s move on to present day hacker groups, Anonymous and LulzSec.

Anonymous began as a self-declared ‘legion’ of 4chan users – an online message board that drew members by allowing them to freely and anonymously post content and messages.

The majority of members were satisfied with posting user-generated content and participating in discussions. However, a chunk of its user base was not, and started to dabble in online pranks. These pranks soon evolved into something more akin to activism, and Anonymous started targeting organizations such as the Church of Scientology and any other party that members felt personally aggrieved with.

Instead of being a closed group, Anonymous actively sought the participation of the general public, organizing and orchestrating plans in plain view. They urged tens of thousands of volunteers to download tools that enabled them to participate in global assaults such as in support of WikiLeaks, the victims of which included PayPal.

The latest versions of Anonymous’ tools include a functionality that lets users hand control of their weaponized systems to a central authority in order to better direct and control attacks, much how a botnet behaves.

LulzSec retains the philosophy of secrecy in which no one knows where its members originate or where they organize their strikes. LulzSec’s stated motivation is to cause anarchy; a direct quote from their site says:

We’re LulzSec, a small team of lulzy individuals who feel the drabness of the cyber community is a burden on what matters: fun. Considering fun is now restricted to Friday, where we look forward to the weekend, weekend, we have now taken it upon ourselves to spread fun, fun, fun, throughout the entire calendar year.

Of course, this does not mean that all hacker groups are in it for the laughs. Organized criminal groups that attack banking and finance databases for sensitive information have been in our midst for several years, stealing account numbers and passwords that they use to drain victims’ accounts or sell to the highest bidder. With attacks ramping up in the last 12 months, a single successful attack can give a cybercriminal a very fat paycheck for a fraction of the effort it would take to earn the same amount legitimately. With that payoff, it’s no wonder that those with the know-how are easily tempted.

What does the future hold?

These attacks don’t herald the end of the ‘Internet economy’ or ‘national security’ as we know it. Those seeking to break systems because they want to, or because they aim to achieve their goals through system abuse will always be present.

It is clear is that while these hacker groups’ capabilities and motivations may vary, the end result is breached networks and unhappy victims.

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About SCB Enterprises
System Solutions and Integration

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