Is the Hacktivist Group ‘Anonymous’ Still a Threat?
The hacktivist group Anonymous has been well known for years now. In its early days, the group succeeded in pulling off some successful attacks like the HBGary attack, Stratfor, and some high-profile campaigns like the Los Zetas opposition. But it’s been a while since Anonymous has managed to do anything too major (save for its efforts in taking down ISIS social media accounts), leaving some wondering whether, with apparently limited capabilities, the group still poses any sort of threat.
What is Anonymous?
Before we go into whether Anonymous is still a threat, let’s make sure we understand what Anonymous is.
Anonymous has been described as many things, including a “loose, decentralized group,” a hacktivist organization, and a loosely associated international network of activist and hacktivist entities. It’s the group’s unique characteristics that make it difficult to describe accurately. Anonymous is very “fluid;” some hacktivist groups might use the Anonymous name in certain cases and their true name in others. It’s so decentralized that anyone can name himself a member of the group, without reporting to anyone. Can that be considered an organization?
The way we’ll describe Anonymous for now is actually borrowed from the Maritime world, the concept of “flags of convenience.” Ship owners often register their ships in a country other than the one they operate from but rather in certain countries where it’s more convenient (in terms of regulations, taxes, etc.) to register the ship. This is such a popular custom that more than half of the world’s merchant ships are sailing with “flags of convenience.” (Interesting fact: In 2009, the Panama, Liberia, and Marshall Islands flags accounted for almost 40% of the entire world’s fleet!)
Anonymous is like a flag of convenience for many hacktivist groups, not because of regulation or costs, but because of brand recognition. What would sound more impressive? That Anonymous is planning to attack Israel as part of operation opIsrael, or that “Pakistan Hackers” are planning to do so? Just as ships of warring countries can theoretically sail the waters donning the same flag of convenience, so can rival Hacktivist groups call themselves “Anonymous” without any problem.
The fact that Anonymous is a hacktivist brand explains why we’ve seen a major decline in the group’s capabilities. The capable attackers were put in the cross hairs of law enforcement early on, and arrests were made. Take out the truly capable attackers and you’re left with much less capable ones still carrying the name Anonymous. From the outside, it would still seem as though Anonymous lives on and operates, but the reality is quite different. In light of this, should Anonymous still be feared?
If hacktivists can don the Anonymous flag at any time, Anonymous should be feared, as long as hacktivism is a threat. Which leads us to the next question: should hacktivism be feared?
While a lot of the hacktivism is aimed at pure propaganda (whether by stating false claims or by hacking not what’s sensitive but rather what’s going to make the most noise), time and time again hacktivist groups have showed us that there are attackers out there with real capabilities. These groups usually operate under their own name, their “true flag” if you will, such as the Syrian Electronic Army that has carried out many successful cyberattacks, primarily against media organizations. One must also remember the “Cyber fighters of Izz Ad-Din Al Qassam,” also known as “Qassam Cyber Fighters,” who announced Operation Ababil after the release of the controversial film “The Innocence of the Muslims.” During the operation, the group launched massive Denial of Service attacks against U.S. financial institutions and was successful in taking out some of their services.
To conclude, if we’re wondering whether Anonymous should still be considered a threat, the answer is yes. Considering that from time to time we do see capable hacktivist groups pop up, and considering nothing can be done to prevent them from donning the name “Anonymous” for brand-recognition or other purposes, Anonymous should be considered a threat. What we should really be asking now is, who’s hiding behind their flag?
What hacker groups besides “Anonymous” do you think should be considered a threat?
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