December 28, 2014
Just before Christmas, a Twitter account that claimed affiliation with the powerful hacking group Anonymous threatened a major holiday hack, tweeting that: “Accounts of various companies around the world will leak.” The release of a list of usernames and passwords for 13,000 accounts on Amazon, PlayStation, XBox Live, Hulu Plus, Walmart and others is proof that they were serious. According to TechCrunch, the hack also included credit card numbers, security codes and expiry dates.
The Daily Dot provided a full list of those companies affected by the leak–referred to as LulzXmas. The hacked details were published on the document sharing site Ghostbin on Friday, and by Saturday the information was no longer viewable.
As the US government appears to be trading cyber-blows with North Korea, the country is also facing this kind of guerrilla warfare, often referred to as cyber-terrorism–in the form of international collaborations which claim to be undertaking activism (or ‘hacktivism’) against government and corporate interests but whose targets do not always look so specific. Could the world be looking at a cyber-war on two fronts?
Other than having the US government as a common enemy, there is no connection between groups like Anonymous and the North Korean government. In fact, while the latest conflict between the US and North Korea appears to have been started by the North Koreans wanting to prevent the release of Sony Pictures’ The Interview (which they claim insults their leader Kim Jong Un), the latest Anonymous action included a stolen download of The Interview, and hundreds of thousands of people are now reported to have seen it for free.
But the prominent dual threats raise concerns for the future as the scale of cyber-warfare appears to be escalating. Add to this concerns that the Chinese government may have been behind some recent high profile hacks, and the cyber-world looks like an increasingly dangerous place.
Anonymous claims to be part of a social justice movement, political activists using modern means to better the world. With their taking over the Ku Klux Klan’s Twitter account following KKK threats against Ferguson protestors, it may be a view that many others share. Supporters have called the group “freedom fighters” and “digital Robin Hoods.” But when private details of the ordinary public such as credit card accounts and passwords are released, then it may be hard to see them as such. Whichever viewpoint you take, with operators confirmed in many countries including the US, UK, Australia, the Netherlands, Spain and Turkey, the influence of the group is significant.
It should be noted that leading experts are skeptical about the U.S.’s claim that North Korea was behind the Sony attack. At the same time, the US government has not officially claimed responsibility for North Korea’s recent Internet shutdown either. But in order not to concern ourselves with such worries going forward, we would have to assume either that governments are not interested in cyber-warfare (difficult) or that the U.S. and North Korea will make nice (even more difficult).
As for Anonymous, it’s a collective which is only loosely connected and has no central leadership, and some members have denied that the Christmas leak even had anything to do with them. But whoever is responsible this time, it’s hard to know if hacking groups that claim to be an enemy only of extremist groups and the worst of government and capitalist excesses are in danger of spiralling out of control. It is more palatable to assume their cause is largely political rather than purely vindictive. But at the same time, it’s undeniable that cyber-tensions, on various fronts, are growing.
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