With news just breaking that over 72 government and private organisations have fallen victim to cyber attacks, the debate about cyber security is more pertinent than ever. Yet, as Anonymous hackers continue to be targeted by the FBI, the question arises; has Anonymous and LulzSec's "hacktivism" helped the world get serious about hacking before it's too late?
The Recent Attack
Earlier today Security company McAfee revealed that it had uncovered what appears to be the largest coordinated hacking campaign ever seen, with 72 government and business organisations networks all being compromised.
The laundry-list of victims included the United States, Taiwanese, Indian, South Korean, Vietnamese and Canadian governments. The report also highlighted the United Nations (UN), International Olympic Committee (IOC), the World Anti-Doping Agency and numerous tech companies -- some with high-profile military contracts -- as other targets.
The campaign was discovered when McAfee researchers stumbled upon logs of the attacks on a server it was reviewing while investigating the 2009 defence company data breaches.
According to the security firm the earliest network intrusions found thus far date back to mid-2006, possibly even earlier. Though not naming which -- though China remains on the tip of most security firms tongues -- the company went on to state its belief that the attacks were all part of a hostile government's ongoing cyber campaign.
The campaign has since been codenamed "Operation Shady RAT."
Anonymous and LulzSec Hacktivism
The news comes just after numerous alleged Anonymous and LulzSec hackers, including the high-profile hacker spokesman Jake Davis -- aka Topiary -- were arrested earlier this month.
The two groups LulzSec and Anonymous have both come to the fore after enacting numerous cyber attacks against multiple governments and private companies.
The groups have been responsible for attacks on NATO, the U.S. Senate, FBI and Orlando Police Department and numerous Turkish, Italian and Spanish government owned websites. In the private sector the groups have also enacted successful cyber attacks against Sony, PayPal and the Rupert Murdoch owned News International Sun newspaper.
Different in Kind
If one were to compare the list of LulzSec and Anonymous hackers targets to those of Operation Shady RAT then undoubtedly parallels will occur. But, it would be a mistake to lump the two types of hacking into the same category.
The hacks that allegedly occurred in Operation Shady RAT were inflicted by a "state actor" and had an entirely different motive in mind.
The alleged attack on the UN is a good example of this. The UN was reportedly hit back in 2008. The attack hit its Secretariat in Geneva, the hackers reportedly remained active, trawling through the network unnoticed for nearly two years before being removed.
While the exact motivation for the hack is still unknown, it seems unlikely that the hackers were spying on the UN just for "lulz".
Anonymous and LulzSec hacks, despite having similar targets, are motivated by entirely different goals and are completely different in nature.
The two groups are what has come to be described as "hacktivists". The term refers to the two groups policy of only picking targets it feels have in someway wronged the world or them.
In the pair's opening statement regarding the ongoing Operation Anti Security, the two hacker collectives clarified that all their hacks were enacted in "protest" against perceived attempts to restrict citizens freedom:
"As we're aware, the government and whitehat security terrorists across the world continue to dominate and control our Internet ocean. Sitting pretty on cargo bays full of corrupt booty, they think it's acceptable to condition and enslave all vessels in sight.
"Our Lulz Lizard battle fleet is now declaring immediate and unremitting war on the freedom-snatching moderators of 2011," read the groups' opening statement.
Later adding: ""Together we can defend ourselves so that our privacy is not overrun by profiteering gluttons. Your hat can be white, gray or black, your skin and race are not important. If you're aware of the corruption, expose it now, in the name of Anti-Security."
What This Means
In keeping with its statement, nearly all of LulzSec and Anonymous attacks can uniformly be seen to have motivations outside of simple spying or information gathering.
The "Murdoch Meltdown Monday" attack on the Sun newspaper was cited as a direct protest against the paper's involvement in the ongoing phone hacking scandal sweeping the world's media.
Similarly the attacks on the Turkish and Spanish governments were all publicised as a form of protest against the two country's planned internet reforms.
As a consequence of this, rather than seeking to remain unnoticed -- as the covert Operation Shady RAT hackers did -- the two groups actually want people to be aware of the network breaches and, as a consequence, publicise them posting stolen data and inflammatory press releases online.
This would be a problem should the groups publish data that could be used for harm, but bizarrely, like its hacktivist approach to picking targets, LulzSec and Anonymous also seem to have a moral-code for releasing data.
Most recently during LulzSec's attack on the Sun, the group delayed the data's release so as to ensure it didn't harm the U.K. court's investigation.
"We think, actually we may not release emails from The Sun, simply because it may compromise the court case. But.. http://t.co/VcE4QCL," read the group's initial tweet on the topic.
Followed by: "We're currently working with certain media outlets who have been granted exclusive access to some of the News of the World e-mails we have."
Helping or Hurting?
It's undeniable no matter how Anonymous and LulzSec spin it, the two groups activities are completely illegal. Yet, the fact that the two only release data that isn't necessarily harmful and operate under an, albeit questionable, hacktivist code could be seen as a positive.
Since the two emerged the world's awareness of cyber crime and the growing threat hacking poses has increased exponentially.
This in turn has meant that numerous companies have already begun upgrading network security to counteract the very public threat Anonymous and LulzSec pose.
As a result, Anonymous and LulzSec's hacks could inadvertently have had a positive affect -- albeit one different to the one intended -- on the world, forcing companieas and governments to get serious about cyber security.
Something that, given McAfee's vice president of threat research Dmitri Alperovitch ominous prediction Operation Shady RAT is only the tip of the government-hacking-iceberg, isn't a bad thing at all.