The meaning of the LulzSec arrests

It’s a name that immediately gets everyone involved in information security.

LulzSec.

It was (or is, depending on a certain point of view) a well-known band of intercontinental hackers that prided themselves on carrying out cyber attacks on some very high-profile organisations and systems. Some of its alleged ‘hits’ have included tapping into the US Senate’s official website, causing ‘technical disruption’ to the CIA’s website, infiltrating a database that listed the locations of cash machines in the UK, and launching a denial of service attack against the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency.

It’s quite a list, to say the least. As such, it’s no surprise that since the arrest of Hector Xavier Monsegur – aka Sabu, the so-called leader of this gang of cyber criminals – last summer, security officials have been working double time to reign in the rest of LulzSec’s members. And it was recently revealed that a coordinated international effort has resulted in the arrest of some of its purportedly senior members in the US, the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

Speaking to Fox News, one unnamed hacker told the reporter that his peers were shocked about these recent developments.

“People are freaking out. Everyone’s totally freaking out,” the hacker said. “Everyone’s in shock. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Sabu – I mean of our generation, he’s going to be remembered in history.”

Since these arrests came to light, it has also been made known that Mr Monsegur has not only pleaded guilty to a string of offences relating to cyber crimes, but turned informant, working with the FBI to help it paint a clearer picture of what subterfuge activities they have been involved in, who its members are and the kinds of strategies they’ve used to cause havoc and inconvenience business.

While this activity is welcome news, after all, they have reportedly caused billions of dollars worth of damage to corporations and governments, one expert has highlighted that the group was an offshoot of a much bigger movement known as Anonymous. The implication being that a significant battle has been won, but the war is still raging.

Anonymous is basically a worldwide group of hacktivists, its numbers unknown, who pool resources to launch various attacks that are ‘ethical’. Cnet’s Elinor Mills commented that while this crackdown will have an immediate impact, it will hardly diminish the resolve of those in Anonymous in continuing with their politically-motivated attacks.

Speaking to Cnet, one member said that arrests were commonplace, and, consequently, this latest clean-up of criminals will not be that detrimental. They’re not the ‘kingpins’, the hacker said. As it noted on its Twitter feed, in typical hyperbolic style: “We are Legion. We do not have a leader nor will we ever. LulzSec was a group, but Anonymous is a movement. Groups come and go, ideas remain.”

It’s a riveting story that reveals the complexity and challenge of combating online criminal activity that has no real tangible base. The democratic power of the internet, its open composition and its philosophy of freedom, is conversely one of its downsides. We haven’t yet figured out how to preserve all that while enforcing regulation and policing those who abuse these freedoms. However, as with anything in life, so long as the security officials work together, patrol the ‘digital streets’, across borders, small bites into the larger machine can erode the size and scope until its impact is infinitesimal.

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