‘Hacktivism’ Changes the Threat Landscape, Again

A. DeCarlo
A. DeCarlo

Summary Bullets:

  • Recent research finds that ideology and politics – not money – were the top drivers of DDoS attacks in late 2011.
  • High profile scores like hacktivist group Anonymous’ breach of Strategic Forecasting’s site are inspiring dogmatically-minded attackers to strike more often and hit new targets.

From Tahrir Square to Ducati Park, 2011 was the year protestors took to the streets to overthrow the establishment.  In parallel, hacktivists went viral with more cyber attacks launched for the purpose of humiliating their enemies and calling attention to their causes.  The trend is continuing into 2012, when the hacktivist group Anonymous launched a DDoS attack against the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI in retaliation for the shuttering of file sharing site Megaupload.

Arbor Networks’ newly released 7th Annual Worldwide Infrastructure Security Report confirms that dogma is replacing money as the top catalyst for distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.  The network security vendor’s service provider surveys yields some fascinating details about the philosophical inspirations behind an increasing number of breaches.  Between October 2010 and November 2011, 35% of the 114 providers surveyed by Arbor Networks named politics and ideology as prime incentives for DDoS attacks, the most often cited driver for these breaches.

The frequency of DDoS attacks is also on the rise, with 91% of respondents experiencing at least one DDoS attack per month in 2011, an increase from 76% the previous year.  Forty-four percent of service providers reported seeing ten or more attacks each month during the 13 month period versus 35% in the previous year.

This DDoS attack research can tell us a little about what we can expect the future threat landscape to look like – both in terms of the sources of these attacks and the potential targets. Unlike some criminal and state-sponsored attacks, rogue hacktivists often work in widely distributed and unstructured organizations that are difficult to dismantle.  And each attack that is perceived as successful is likely to inspire other similar breaches from new sources.

While hackers are likely to keep conventional corporate and government targets in their sights, previously under-the-radar organizations that traditionally had little to fear from cyber criminals are likely to come under more fire.  Something as basic as an organization’s geographic location or its leadership’s perceived political persuasions can make it attractive/vulnerable to hackers.  Unfortunately, these are the very organizations that may be least prepared to fend off DDoS attacks or other types of breaches.

Do you think your organization has adequate defenses against this increasingly dangerous threat environment?  Do you think the hacktivist threat is being blown out of proportion?

What do you think?

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