Report threatens to persecute cyber-hackers if infiltrations continue
Looks like the authorities have been alerted to the presence of trolls in the neighborhood. NATO leaders have stated they will be cracking down on cyber terrorism and persecuting any identified hackers. A new draft report declares they'll be taking the threat of "hacktivism" more seriously as Anonymous developes increasingly sophisticated digital attack techniques.
Anonymous was born out of the image board 4chan, long known as something akin to the web's red light district. Most of their activity involves collectively spamming message boards and chat rooms until they shut down, but in more recent years Anonymous has added a few political causes to their roster of mayhem. They actively protest the activities of the Church of Scientology, sometimes even in real life. If you've ever seen dudes in Guy Fawkes masks handing out pamphlets about why Scientology is awful, you've seen the face of Anonymous. They also take action against animal abusers and other unseemly individuals by releasing their private data and encouraging spam on all channels. Kitten torturers may find themselves locked out of their email with hundreds of pizzas simultaneously delivered to their door. Compromising people's privacy might not be the most ethical course of justice, but at least Anonymous keeps a sense of humor about their vigilante action.
Recent moves by the collective seem to have crossed a line. In February, Anonymous hacked into the US-based defense contractor HBGary and discovered the military's plans to monitor social network sites by creating thousands of fake profiles and tracking individual activity through aggregate data. Anonymous has long supported WikiLeaks and other forces that reveal the inner workings of the government. The government, it seems, isn't too fond of the idea. They love to watch us, but they hate to be watched.
The draft report to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, penned by one General Rapporteur Lord Jopling (who wins for having the most awesome real life villain name ever), warns Anonymous's participants that measures will be taken to infiltrate the group and destroy it from within if the security breaches persist. The US government chimed in on the issue last month too, threatening military action against elite hackers if legal and political measures fail.
I can understand that the government would feel a need to cover its bases publicly with regard to increasing reports of cyber tomfoolery, but threatening military retaliation? What are they going to do, roll tanks over the basement lairs of 4chan devotees? Anonymous has no leaders and its membership is entirely fluid. Their attacks come from dozens of individuals who cover their tracks. There's no regular group of hackers to be pinned down. I suppose NATO could go after those who participate in hacks most frequently, but Anonymous doesn't make tracking that sort of activity easy.
Over in the UK, the government is making plans to recruit "cyber-soldiers" by the hundreds to defend their networks against forces like Anonymous. Maybe the limitations of my tech knowledge are showing here, but I'm not sure how internet mercenaries would be effective. Would they be paid to monitor sensitive networks constantly and counter-hack the hackers? Or is the government just trying to sound tough by stating that they're entering the same game Anonymous has gotten good at?
So far, Anonymous hasn't disrupted any major networks. They've just extracted and published confidential information. It might be illegal, but the jury's still out as to whether this kind of exposition is actually wrong. NATO certainly thinks it warrants their attention, and the US is also concerned about potential digital threats to national security. Five years ago, I doubt anyone would have guessed that back-alley internet subcultures would ever get this kind of attention. But then WikiLeaks came to light, and now Anonymous is in the government's eye. Like V, Anonymous is more of an idea than a group of people--and an idea's much harder to shut down. Even if the most prominent trolls are prosecuted, more can always sign on to the cause. It doesn't look like NATO is taking any direct action to apprehend hackers yet, but we'll have to see if Anonymous does enough to provoke a follow-through on these threats.