During 2011 more than half of the 855 recorded incidents on cybercrime were conducted by hacktivist groups such as Anonymous, leaving traditional criminals in the minority for the first time.

Last year was without doubt the year of the hacktivist, with Anonymous leading the way for activists to show their hate for major corporations by either knocking them off the internet, or even breaking in, stealing and then publicising private data.

Anonymous mask
Verizon has found that groups such as Anonymous accounted for more than half of data breaches in 2011. Reuters

The rise of hacktivism in 2011 led to American mobile company Verizon to carry out a survey examining who conducted the attacks and how they were able to do so.

The findings revealed that 96 percent of hacks were not highly difficult and, perhaps more alarmingly, 85 percent of data breaches took weeks or more to discover, with 92 percent of incidents being discovered by a third party, rather than the victim.

Verizon said: "Most victims fell prey because they were found to possess an (often easily) exploitable weakness rather than because they were pre-identified for attack. Whether targeted or not, the great majority of victims succumbed to attacks that cannot be described as highly difficult."

"Those that were on the more sophisticated side usually exhibited this trait in later stages of the attack after initial access was gained."

Verizon data

The American mobile network added: "While at least some evidence of breaches often exists, victims don't usually discover their own incidents. Third parties usually clue them in, and, unfortunately, that typically happens weeks or months down the road."

To conduct the survey Verizon spoke to law enforcement agencies in the UK, US, Australia, Holland and Ireland and gathered information from 855 incidents involving roughly 174 million stolen records.

The major aspect of this report is that it highlights the move away from the tradional reason for carrying out a cyber attack (financial) to being about the hacktivists' need to publicise themselves and their beliefs.

The report said: "It's not just about the money any more. Doubly concerning for many organisations and executives was that target selection by these groups [Anonymous etc] didn't follow the logical lines of who has money and/or valuable information."

Last year also showed a shift from physically breaking into a company's database, to doing so over the internet. Breaches involving physical hacks were down almost a fifth from 2010 to jusy 10 percent, while breaches involving hacking shot up by a third, representing 81 percent of incidents recorded by Verizon.

Verizon data

The use of malware also saw a significant gain over the previous year, up a fifth to 69 percent of the 855 data breaches recorded.

Finally, breaches using "social tactics" were down to seven percent and attacks resulting from privilege misuse was down 12 percent to represent just one in 20 of incidents.