Hacktivism

Photo from Creative Commons.

Self-styled hacker/activist group Anonymous allegedly announced a plan on Oct. 5 to attempt a cyber attack on the New York Stock Exchange. The threat of the attack was meant as a means of Anonymous throwing their support behind the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The moment the video hit YouTube it was met with resistance from the Anonymous community. Many in the community of hackers found the current attack plan a little bold and unreasonable, even for Anonymous. The video claimed Anonymous would initiate a denial of service attack on the NYSE website. This distributed denial of service attack was scheduled to take place Oct. 10. A video published in the group’s YouTube feed on Oct. 8 decried the attack and the previous video as accidentally promoting a false attack. Then a last-minute video on Oct. 9 in the same YouTube feed announced some factions within Anonymous would go ahead with the attack.

NYSE and the FBI have taken the threat seriously after a number of similar attacks against corporations that refused to allow for the transfer of funds to WikiLeaks from supporters. These attacks proved the organization Anonymous could pose a real threat in a cyber sense. Those attacks took place late last year, and a number of arrests took place proving that Anonymous is not invisible to the public.

Among members of Anonymous, many subgroups have claimed the recent operation was not planned by Anonymous. These subgroups believe the video was a plot by another group to undermine the protests on Wall Street. This highlights an issue with the structure of Anonymous as a hacktivist group. While the organization is made of many members the group has no leader, this lack of leadership results in fracturing and splintering within the largely autonomous organization. If a few members are arrested it does the organization no harm, but on the same token there is little direction within the organization. The success of an attack requires the agreement of the various factions.

While illegal, hacktivism may be an affective means to get a point across. In this case it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that any such attack would merely act to destabilize the Wall Street protests, which began recently to find their voice. If the plotted attack on the NYSE is in fact a legitimate plot of cyber terrorism intended to help the Wall Street protesters, it has the chance to do more harm than good.

Anonymous may have neutered itself by drawing so much attention to their actions. They have actively worked toward making themselves less anonymous while pursuing their ideological goals. Every future threat, real or not, will draw more attention and scrutiny from legal authorities who have everything to gain from detaining and ending the threat of Anonymous as a cyber terrorism group.

Update: Oct. 10 passed with little more than a feeble attack by Anonymous, the splinter group that followed through with the attack only bringing down NYSE’s website for a couple of minutes, and the stock exchange was not affected by the attack.

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