LulzSec Arrests Take a Few Heads Off the Hydra
The coordinated arrests of five key leaders of the LulzSec hacktivist group is a score for the good guys -- but whether the victory is mainly symbolic or a significant step toward dismantling the loosely organized "legion of geniuses" that have been confounding authorities of late is the question. "LulzSec is just a spinoff of Anonymous," said Security Pursuit CEO Steve Fox. This isn't going to signal the end of hacktivism or Anonymous, he said -- "absolutely not."
03/06/12 12:34 PM PT
Authorities in the United States, as well as in the United Kingdom and in Ireland, have arrested five suspected hackers affiliated with Lulz Security, more commonly known as "LulzSec," a group of so-called hacktivists. Among those arrested is Hector Xavier Monsegur, the suspected leader of the group.
Monsegur, who went by the nickname "Sabu," actually cooperated with the FBI to help track and arrest the other LulzSec members, according to press reports. In this way, the FBI is reusing an old, but effective, method from its own playbook.
"This is how the FBI eventually took down the Mafia," Rob Rachwald, director of strategy for Imperva, told the E-Commerce Times. "It comes down to finding one informant and milking it for all it's worth."
Those involved were identified in media reports as Ryan Ackroyd, known as "Kayla," and Jake Davis, or "Topiary," both of London; Darren Martyn, known as "Pwnsauce," and Donncha O'Cearrbhail, known as "Palladium," both of Ireland; and Jeremy Hammond, or "Anarchaos," of Chicago.
International Crime and International Police
What is notable about these arrests, said Rachwald, is how well coordinated the efforts were, with police agencies in Great Britain, Ireland and the United States working hand in hand.
"One of the facts that made this successful is that the global coordination is really improving," Rachwald added. "This shows that law enforcement agencies around the world are talking. They are taking this seriously. We saw efforts between Western Europe and the United States."
The danger still persists however, as more effort does need to be made with law enforcement in China and notably Russia, he said.
This has been a learning curve, noted Rachwald. "This is showing that [law enforcement] is getting it. We've seen law enforcement caught off guard, and this often happens with new methods of crime. They are behind the curve, but they figure it out. Past the prologue, this is the evolution we should expect."
Anonymous Threat Remains
LulzSec is only a small piece of the greater hacktivist threat, and in itself is an offshoot of the larger group known as "Anonymous." These hackers have been responsible for numerous attacks, including one on PayPal and even the Federal Trade Commission. While the arrest of Monsegur could potentially spell the end of LulzSec, Anonymous will likely remain unaffected.
"LulzSec is just a spinoff of Anonymous," Steve Fox, chief executive officer of Security Pursuit, told the E-Commerce Times.
This isn't going to signal the end of hacktivism or Anonymous, he said -- "absolutely not."
Anonymous and these affiliated groups are akin to al-Qaeda, Fox observed. The groups are so decentralized that members operate apart from one antoher.
"We could see more attacks in the coming weeks," he added. "Generally speaking, they will likely try to make a mockery of the arrests. They may go after the agencies involved and try to make their point that they cannot be stopped."
The arrests, while symbolic, have not really hurt the leadership significantly, in Fox's view, and even could be used as a recruiting tool.
"There is not one point of leadership, so arresting five members is symbolic more than anything," he said. "It could send a new message to some people who might think twice if they see being people being arrested. But that won't be enough to shut down Anonymous. And there will be individuals that could be motivated, and some will jump on board."
Legion of Geniuses
On the other hand, these arrests could have a greater impact and could signal a major break, suggested Rachwald, just as the FBI and other law enforcement agencies seriously weakened organized crime.
"I think this takedown is significant, and to go to the al-Qaeda comparison, a bin Laden-less al-Qaeda is less powerful than with bin Laden," he said. "What this has also done is damage the myth of the hacktivists."
One point that needs to be emphasized, said Rachwald, is that LulzSec -- and even Anonymous -- are small groups, with a so-called legion of geniuses following an idiot.
"I think a few will people will get cold feet," he concluded, "especially the ones who are more skillful -- and these arrests are going to scare that legion of geniuses."