Anonymous isn’t unanimous, but somehow the guys with headless suits appear uninvited on government websites, terrifying national defense and IT security departments. Looking behind their masks, the Anonymous hacker network appears to be growing as a global political force conducting cybercrime to invade government and corporate websites around the world.
Anonymous isn’t just another loosely associated network of blackhat hackers with a mission to deface government websites. Individuals behind this hacktivist group have the ability to get noticed and are determined to get their messages across cyberspace, which happens to have no geological boundaries.
Occasional incarceration of influential Anonymous leaders may have deprived the group of talent and social inspiration, but their political mission has garnered significant publicity over time. And apparently every attack by Anonymous seems to be carried out in response to current political events taking place in Arab countries and the U.S.
Security risks from politically motivated cyber-attacks are not limited to defacement of government websites in these countries. Business organizations and financial institutions often end up as hostages in the game of hacktivism when governments – naturally – ignore the demands of hacktivist groups as strong as Anonymous.
A similar situation emerged in Egypt when President Morsi stepped down from office. Anonymous Jordan hacked into eight Egyptian government websites. Notable targets included the Ministry of Electricity and Energy and the General Authority for Red Sea Ports. While many Egyptians celebrated the removal of Morsi, Anonymous Jordan believe the ex-president did everything he could for the betterment of Egypt. But since the political transition has already taken place, and a caretaker prime minister is now in charge of the government, defacing websites will not result in further political changes.
However, IT security analysts fear Anonymous might intensify cyber-attacks and target Egyptian businesses, banks and health institutions in the future. This would be similar to incidents in the U.S. where Anonymous hacked into the CIA’s website back in 2012, which was followed by a series of occasional but costly cyber-attacks on U.S. banks and business organizations. Services were disrupted and credit card information was stolen and published on the Web, but unlike Egypt, U.S. IT security departments have always been well-aware of the threats and reacted to cyber-attacks to reduce damages on end users and investors.
On the other hand, IT security is hardly a priority in Egypt where political and civil unrest are intensifying and hackers are discovering new vulnerabilities in the nation’s Web infrastructure. Nevertheless, Egypt’s cyber police was able to regain control over the compromised websites, but if political turmoil persists in the land, we might see politically motivated hacktivists inflicting considerable damage on the websites of Egypt’s upcoming government.
However, analysts believe hacktivist groups such as Anonymous are simply anti-U.S. and not the ambassadors of human rights of the Middle East and Northern Africa as they claim to be. All of this means Anonymous is still very much part of the security-threat picture haunting U.S. government officials. And it appears the group is trying to play mind games with U.S. government and defense officials by stealing sensitive state information and exposing the weak links of the nation’s defense systems publicly.
Recent proof comes as Anonymous claims cyber-attacks against the largest and oldest prison operator in the U.S., Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Stolen information about CCA exposed on the Web by Anonymous suggests the for-profit company hired to operate and manage prisons and detention centers is a poor financial investment. Events from the last few months also lend support to Anonymous’ conclusions: four state governments have recently canceled five prison contracts with CCA. The hacktivist group points out that for-profit prison systems fail to offer real solutions to the government’s fiscal problems. In the bigger picture, most of the cyber-attacks by Anonymous are politically motivated, but the sophisticated ones are usually only launched to embarrass the U.S. government.
Earlier this year, the tech-blogosphere went rampant at Anonymous’ failed OpUSA attempts. But attacks on CCA and Egypt’s government websites signal the growing hacking prowess of the politically motivated hacktivist group that still vows to wipe U.S. off the cybermap.
And considering the cybercrime activities of hacktivist groups in general, stealing money or damaging infrastructure is rarely seen as their primary agenda for launching cyber-attacks on government offices. Sometimes hacktivists attack just to get a message across. Sometimes they attack just to embarrass organizations. But a common reason behind most of the organized cybercrime activities by global hacktivist organizations is hatred against governments.
It’s no wonder then that cybercrime gets more than a passing mention in President Obama’s speeches about security threats. And thanks to hacktivist groups like Anonymous, the Obama administration is not just worried about weapons of mass destruction, but also about weapons of mass disruption.