Forecasting the year ahead in hacktivism
Hacktivism, or politically-motivated cybercriminal activity, has entered mainstream consciousness as groups such as Anonymous bedeviled consumers and IT administrators around the world in 2011. Although the future trajectory of this trend is not entirely clear, experts agree that hacktivists will not go quietly into the night in 2012.
The fusion of politics and cybercrime came to a head this year, with online security threats successfully targeting PayPal, the Syrian Defense Ministry and San Francisco's public transportation system, to name just a few. The new breed of hackers has certainly caught the attention of private citizens and public officials alike, but the dynamic and mysterious nature of these groups makes it even more difficult to predict their next moves.
"Individuals decide on an attack they'd like to execute, and become their own leaders and organizers for the group then decide to help," explained Venture Beat columnist Meghan Kelly in her latest report. "There is no overarching leader, no head honcho. Indeed, one Anonymous member told Venture Beat that the group's 'leaders' are really just bullhorns."
The advanced skill sets and autonomy displayed by group members are cause for concern, as just this week Anonymous released thousands of allegedly protected passwords, credit card numbers, and even home addresses of helpless customers caught in the crossfire of the perpetrators' politically-charged ambitions.
But the attributes that are often touted as these groups' greatest assets could prove to be their undoing in 2012. Rogue activities by disenchanted former and current members have at times been met with direct intervention from legal authorities - as well as a wave of denial from group affiliates attempting to distance themselves from questionably motivated attacks.
With that said, the general consensus among online security experts is that the hacktivist movement will reach a crossroads in 2012, either expanding and amplifying its influence or splintering into loosely connected sects.
"McAfee Labs predicts that in 2012, either the 'true' Anonymous group will reinvent itself, or die out," analysts suggested in the security firm's annual forecast. "Additionally, those leading the digital disruptions will join forces with physical demonstrators, and will target public figures such as politicians, industry leaders, judges and law enforcement, more than ever before."
According to PCWorld, the line between those members plotting routine digital disruptions and large-scale breaches of valuable data will become more pronounced in 2012. And, as it is an election year, online security administrators have likely not heard the last from their hacktivist adversaries.