Much like the outlaws of the American Old West, hackers have become a nearly mythical subgroup of the criminal populace. Movies such as “Hackers” and “The Matrix” have elevated computer users to the level of imagination usually reserved for Rebel freedom fighters and hobbits. Contrary to popular conception, hackers are generally not solitary programmers working out personal offenses. Most of the high-profile attacks of 2011 were carried by groups of hackers working together, primarily LulzSec and Anonymous.
LulzSec is known more for the prank-style of hacking, primarily embarrassing high-profile websites and leaving false news reports. For example, in May 2011 they hijacked the PBS website and announced that rapper Tupac Shakur was alive and living in New Zealand. In June they broke into the Canadian Conservative Party’s network and planted a story about how Prime Minister Stephen Harper choked on hash browns at breakfast and had to be rushed to the hospital. In July 2011 they attacked News Corporation and posted a phony article about the death of owner Rupert Murdoch.
On the other hand, Anonymous is known for more dangerous and politically motivated attacks. In January 2011 Anonymous took down the government networks of both Tunisia and Egypt following attempts by those governments to restrict citizen access to the Internet. In February, they expanded their attacks to include Iran, arguing that they were trying to force the government to halt crimes against their own citizens including “oppression, tyranny, and torture.”
Lest one think Anonymous is untouchable, they were themselves victims of hacker actions in 2011. In May, one of their own turned the tables on the hacker group by hijacking message boards used by the group to plan attacks. In July, Anonymous decided to setup a social networking site similar to Facebook. On July 11, the site was breached by a group called “Turkish Raiders” and the Anonymous logo was replaced with an image of a dog in a suit.
While hacking events make all Internet users wary, companies such as LifeLock are now available to protect consumers from attacks that may compromise secure identity information. Additionally, many major companies now employ former hackers to help protect against these intrusions. The rise in Internet commerce suggest that consumers are careful, but they are still embracing the Web as the preferred business model of the world.