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Anonymous stumbles, but hackers still hazardous

Taylor Armerding | Sept. 17, 2012
It hasn't been the best of months for Anonymous, the loose hacktivist collective that likes to view itself as the most potent threat on the Web

Yes and no, say those who track its exploits. Most agree with Cole Stryker, an author who has researched Anonymous and who The New York Times quoted describing it as "a handful of geniuses surrounded by a legion of idiots."

Those idiots, say experts, are going to make a host of errors and laughable claims. But that does not mean there is no danger from the core group.

"What we have here is a bunch of kids, largely in UK and here and dozens of other places such as Brazil, Turkey, Iran, China, Ukraine, Romania and lesser numbers in other places across the planet -- a bunch of really bored kids who want to be a part of something, but have no clue," said Kevin McAleavey, cofounder of the KNOS Project and a malware and hacking expert.

"How seriously do I take Anonymous's claims? About as seriously as I take 'The Daily Show,'" he said. "Yes, there are a handful of really dangerous people who those kids admire and who occasionally feed them a breath mint. One or two of them have already been apprehended. The rest have gone back to collecting exploits and writing malware, and selling them to criminals and government spooks for real cash. They won't touch Anonymous any more because the heat is too high."

Nick Selby, a Texas police officer and information security consultant who runs a police-led intelligence blog, noted at the time of the LulzSec bust that there is essentially no barrier to claim membership in Anonymous. "It doesn't require massive technical skills -- just reasonable knowledge and a willingness to break the law," he said.

But Aaron Cohen, founder of the Hacker Academy, said he thinks it would be foolish to discount the group's skill and power. He said he has a hard time talking about Anonymous, "because we don't know who they are. People are out there doing things under the name of Anonymous, but you don't really know if that's true."

Cohen said the whole idea of an Anonymous brand misses the point. "They're not looking for branding," he said. "They're doing it under a pseudo name. There is no call to arms to get somebody. But if one person says they're going to get a company, then everybody tends to rally around that person."

But Cohen adds that he thinks Anonymous has been "pretty reliable so far," in both its claims and its threats. And he said whether it is Anonymous or some other group, good hackers are proof that "if people want to break into something badly enough, they can."

"So if you're a target, it's best to tighten up," he said.


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