Needing a reason to once again strike fear into the hearts of Americans, the director of the National Security Agency has found a new enemy poised to topple our way of life and attack the freedoms we hold dear. No, it’s not some new terrorist group or some home-grown fanatic; it’s the vigilante hacker activist group Anonymous. (I think we’ll need threat level orange please.)
Over the past few months the “hacktivist” exploits of the loosely organized consortium of hackers known as Anonymous has been well documented, often targeting individuals and organizations, “with the goal of embarrassing them or revealing what it believes is are injustices.” While such attacks have caused some headaches for businesses, PayPal for instance, they have all been relatively benign denial of service hacks, with no reports of any actual money stolen, information released, or accounts hacked.
But according to the Wall Street Journal, the NSA has kicked its alarmist rhetoric into overdrive, warning that such cyber-activism has a dark side and we will soon see the Anonymous organization evolve into a cyber-terrorist group…with the U.S. firmly in its sights.
Now don’t get me wrong, I firmly understand that the cyber-attacks of late, many of which were carried out by Anonymous, have done some damage, caused some headaches, and collaterally made life miserable for many, and in no way do I think what Anonymous is doing is justified or ethical, but in my mind all of that falls well short of the sort of fear-mongering the NSA is trying to stir up.
Further, I fully admit that there are some hacker groups of there with distinctly malevolent intent, aiming their computers at many important American infrastructures, but again, there seems little evidence that a group like Anonymous will naturally transition from annoying cyber-vigilante to all out terrorist.
That said, the NSA is warning that with its growing numbers, Anonymous could soon be in a position to directly attack key American targets, the most obvious target—both for its susceptibility to attack and the widespread effect it would have—is the American power grid. But don’t worry, the American government has a plan…you have a plan, don’t you?
Securing the nation’s power grid has long been a concern for the government, the only problem being that it simply can’t decide which agency should be in charged of it, an ideal situation for passing the buck and denying responsibility should an attack actually occur. That said, industry officials have assured the WSJ that several backup systems are in already in place to prevent such an attack, or at least to mitigate its long term effects.
But is there any real cause for concern? While I can’t deny that hackers do pose a potential threat, the hacker commune Anonymous has made no indication that it is looking to delve into cyber-terrorism, as it sees itself (justifiably or not) as a voice for the people. Further, several key MIT researchers simply aren’t convinced that there’s a threat, stating that, “Despite alarmist rhetoric, there is no crisis here. But we do not advise complacency.”