Hackers in Anonymous leave little data hidden

The controversial group that has cracked countless websites as well as the Federal Reserve now has their eyes on Facebook

The Federal Reserve, the Australian Government, the CIA and 485 Chinese government sites are just a miniscule number of databases that Anonymous has hacked over the past four years. The group, whose members call themselves “hacktivists,” has become an infamous global phenomenon.

Bold — Anonymous members are notorious for their “Guy Fawkes” masks. Lorraine Murphy, Creative Commons

One reason why Anonymous’ movements are so spread out is because its members can be found throughout the globe. The means of entry into this online vigilante group are fairly simple. Essentially, knocking on its virtual door, asking to be part of the group is all it takes to join.

I am sure everyone has heard of the phrase “strength in numbers.” The number of participants in each hack is the primary source of strength for Anonymous.

Mark Shaneck, a professor of Computer Science at Liberty University, understands the overwhelming advantage in a quantity of hackers working together simultaneously.

“Many of their attacks are denial of service attacks, where they use their large numbers to simply overwhelm the victims’ computers — (a) very low-skilled attack and hard to defend against,” Shaneck said.

Oftentimes, these denial of service attacks are the primary means by which Anonymous targets its groups of interest. However, Anonymous has also proven to be of some value to law enforcement when it comes to exposing online predators.

In a 2007 case, Anonymous’ actions were crucial to incriminating Chris Forcand, an Internet predator, who was arrested after multiple accounts of luring children under the age of 14.

“Internet postings suggest that before Forcand was on the police radar, those email addresses had attracted the interest of cyber-vigilantes who seek to out anyone who presents with a sexual interest in children,” Toronto Sun reporter Jonathan Jenkins said.

According to the Washington Post, hacking groups related to Anonymous threatened to attack Facebook as recently as last November.

“A group claiming to be part of the hacktivist collective Anonymous has declared war on Facebook — but they shouldn’t expect the support of the majority of their peers,” Washington Post reporter Hayley Tsukayama said. “On a more mainstream Anonymous Twitter account, AnonOps, members of the group said that the announced attack on Facebook does not represent the views of all its members.”

This division in future goals shows the weakness that Anonymous has experienced in the past. There is no leadership or central figure within Anonymous, therefore allowing anyone to claim to be part of the group. This is a main reason why Anonymous has accumulated so many affiliates and copycats.

But with group after group aiming to hack Facebook and other social media sites, many users have asked if cyber-security is becoming a major issue.

“One of the biggest effects that they (Anonymous) have had on cyber security is by bringing more widespread awareness of the problems with insecurity,” Shaneck said. “In that sense, Anonymous is having a positive impact on the state of security, as it is leading to more rigorous security testing and more security awareness.”

When powerful and large hacking groups funded by countries like China hack into a network, nobody knows. It goes undetected a large amount of time, and in most instances it does not get media coverage.

“Highly skilled and coordinated attacks require large amounts of funding, which implies the involvement of nations,” Shaneck said. “I see that as a much larger player in the future of cyber-security. In fact, we have already seen a lot of it already, from the attacks on Georgia and Estonia several years back, to Stuxnet, to the recent report from Mandiant on Chinese state-sponsored attacks.”

Cyber-attacks are taking the fight to a new battlefield. With Anonymous continuing to assault major systems, our focus is shifting to better passwords and stronger firewalls. Buying that firewall protection might be a better investment than the newest computer game.

This is my advice to people who are worried about possible hackers getting into their computers: the longer the password, the better. Do not make your security question your birthdate or other easily attainable information. Invest in strong antivirus software, along with a reliable firewall.

To the criminals and predators online who think that they can get away with victimizing unsuspecting users, there is a new vigilante in town. It has vowed to expose those who may inhibit the freedoms of online users, wherever they may be. And when it strikes, it will be signed, “Yours truly, Anonymous.”


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