Last year has proven to be one of the most embarrassing years in data security to date, according to a study commissioned by Verizon Wireless that details 855 data security breaches by hackers, who managed to steal 177 million records.
The report said hacker collectives like Anonymous and LulzSec were responsible for most of the data stolen throughout 2011.
“This re-imagined and re-invigorated specter of “hacktivism” rose to haunt organizations around the world. Many, troubled by the shadowy nature of its origins and proclivity to embarrass victims, found this trend more frightening than other threats, whether real or imagined,” noted the report, discussing the fear of hacker collectives among corporations and media industry organizations.
The report, claiming that hacker collectives pose a very real threat to data security, argued that the actions of groups like Anonymous “wasn’t all protest and lulz,” stating that their method of hacking continued to empower global cybercriminals seeking to benefit financially from hacks.
While hackers were busy in 2011, law enforcement has been busy in 2012. So far this year there have been several high-profile arrests of hackers around the world and the FBI revealed it had worked with the de facto head of LulzSec, Sabu, who acted as an informant as part of a plea bargain.
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Although the report finds that hackers were reponsible for a large amount of the private information released to the public, they weren't responsible for the majority of the security breaches. The report also states that in 2010, hacker collectives and hacktivists were only responsible for less than one percent of security breaches.
The report notes that the researchers credited cyber-attacks to Anonymous or other collectives when the hackers left behind a signature, such as “We are legion,” a popular motto among those affiliated with Anonymous.
However, what the report fails to point out is the leaderless, chaotic nature of Anonymous and other collectives. Any single hacker can claim association to the collective, even if the individual acted alone. Whether simply in solidarity with Anonymous or an expression of support, simply leaving “fo dah lulz” or “we are legion” as a message after a hack can’t possibly make the attack an “official” Anonymous operation, insofar as any operation can be called official.
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If someone is charged with vandalism after spray-painting a New York Yankees logo, Joe Girardi isn’t arrested and questioned by the New York Police Department. If anything at all, the report commissioned by Verizon is a damning account of private sector data security infrastructure.