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Anonymous, the loose hacking collective which sprang to worldwide prominence last year, is going through a major change and is waiting for a new leader to emerge - and that leader could model himself on Tony Soprano according to one security expert.

Anonymous Tony Soprano

Rob Rachwald, director of security strategy with computer security company Imperva, believes the collective is currently without a leader, but this situation will not remain the case for too long.

"The key question is will there be another person who rises up and decides to take a leadership position [within Anonymous] and if that does happen then you'll see another LulzSec-style rampage." Rachwald, who constantly monitors chatrooms to see what is happending within Anonymous, says there are people who are interested in doing that. He points out that some people have already "broken out" from the Anonymous collective to create offshoots such as LulzSec 2 and TeaMp0isoN.

Anonymous' last leader, known in the hacking community as Sabu, was uncovered and flipped by the FBI in the middle of last year, before going on to help the US agency to arrest five Anonymous hackers, with two of them appearing in court just last week.

New Anonymous leader

Rachwald believes a new leader will emerge in the next year, but following these recent high-profile arrests and all the attention LulzSec drew on itself, the new leader will be a lot more circumspect and could look to one of TV's iconic leaders for inspiration and leadership style:

"They will be a little bit more cautious given what happened to Sabu and company. You might have, for example, a Tony Soprano scenario, where Tony's uncle was the reputed boss of the mafia, yet Tony was running everything. So he [Tony] was trying to get the FBI to think this was the guy [his uncle] was the guy. That could possibly happen, have a leader-by-proxy," Rachwald believes.

Rachwald says that due to strict entrapment laws here in the UK, it is the US law enforcement agencies who are doing the most to try and identify what is happening in the shady world of Anonymous, and they have a specific methodology for doing this: "It is not a secret that the FBI spends a lot of time in hacker forums trying to identify people, trying to understand structures and most importantly trying to identify who might be the next leader."

As well as currently being leaderless, another factor affecting Anonymous is the new generation of hackers affiliating themselves with the collective. These new recruits do not seem to be as technically proficient as their predecessors.

Pyramid structure

Anonymous Leader Tony Soprano

This leads to a pyramid structure in the hierarchy of Anonymous, where a few high-profile and technically-proficient hackers are looked up to by what Rachwald calls "newbies."

This can be seen most clearly in the difference between the original LulzSec off-shoot and the new version, which emerged earlier this year. Last year LulzSec carried out 50 high-profile attacks in 50 days including targets like the FBI, Sony and the Pentagon. A new LulzSec emerged earlier this year, attacking "Lulzsec 2 doesn't seem to be as proficient, as educated, as effective," Rachwald said.

However, while the collective is attracting a lot of newcomers, a few hackers of much higher technical know-how are also emerging within the collective.

Back in February Imperva released a report which analysed an Anonymous attack from start to finish, and it was during that attack that the security company noticed a couple of tools being used by the hackers which were of a much higher calibre: "They were using some more advanced versions of some hacking tools. [But] we have seen other attacks where the hackers are definitely a little bit less sophisticated."

The pyramid structure means you get "a few good people at the top, telling everybody what to do and the people are the bottom now are becoming more and more newbies." These 'newbies' look up to the more experienced hackers but are asking "really stupid questions on chatrooms, which indicates they really don't understand the finer details of it [hacking] and are trying to learn it."

While it may surprise people to learn that this generation's teenagers are not technically savvy in a lot of respects, Rachwald believes it is six months' time we should be keeping an eye on: "You have to start somewhere. The only question I have is how long will they be asking these dumb questions for? And if, after six months, the dumb questions stop and they start asking more intelligent ones, we ought to be concerned."