AusCERT 2013: 'Hacktivism' may have passed its prime, but it still left its mark

Get used to hacktivism, because we're stick with it – but whether it fits the media image of “Anonymous”, or how long Anonymous as it first emerged will continue, is a different question. That's the message from Forbes' Parmy Olsen, author of We Are Anonymous: Inside the Hacker World of Anonymous, LulzSec and the Global Cyber Insurgency, speaking to AusCERT 2013.

Beyond its early prankster and vigilantism history, Olsen said, a key question that needs to be answered to understand Anonymous in particular and hacktivism in general is “why are people so keen to risk arrest to take part?”

Olsen uses jailed LulzSec participants as her examples of four motivations she has identified for participating in hacktivism and Anonymous: Anonymous-as-a-stage (Jake Davis, Topiary, performing in front of an audience); activism along with followers and notoriety (Hector Monsegur, Sabu); opportunities to hack (Ryan Ackroyd, Kayla); as well as a need for friendship and a simple desire to troll.

How does this, then, relate to the future of hacktivism in the years since the heyday in which thousands of individuals would take part in IRC chats planning attacks, to an apparently much smaller number of people recruiting botnets rather than individuals?

“You could argue that Anonymous is slowly dying out, partly because the culture of 4chan is changing,” Olsen said. She related a concern by Christopher Poole, founder of 4chan, that in a handful of years it's become “much harder to galvanise people” into activist participation.

That's also changing the nature of Anonymous campaigns, Olsen believes, with the statements attributed to Anonymous taking a more overtly political activist stance, and with online campaigns seeing lower participation.

“While the act of hacking has become easier,” she said, “the act of amassing large crowds of people is getting a lot harder to do.” It's far easier to recruit a botnet than thousands of individuals – and, she said, denial-of-service seems to have shed some of the cachet it had in earlier extended Anonymous campaigns.

Today's smaller Anonymous, Olsen claimed, seems to be more effective at projecting a public image of being larger than it is, helped by a media seeking a group that fits its narrative – and given further credibility by prosecutors exaggerating their language for courtrooms and journalists.

“The Anonymous I have observed doesn't fit an image of dangerous organised criminals.”

Rather, she said, it looks more like radical fringes of other movements that have preceded it in history – and just as such movements have changed society in their wake, so might have Anonymous.

Its underlying theme of complete Internet freedom, Olsen said, seems to have a created a world in which people are less concerned about at least some aspects of their privacy – making Anonymous less of a threat.

Follow @CSO_Australia and sign up to the CSO Australia newsletter.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags hacktivismAusCERT 2013

More about CSO

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Richard Chirgwin

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place