Hacktivist group Anonymous has been on the National Security Agency's radar many times in the past, but new emerging reports suggest that government leaders believe the cybercrime syndicate could soon set it sights on taking down national power grids. Although Anonymous categorically denies these claims, the resolution of this controversy may go a long way toward shaping how the group is perceived by the public and treated by authorities.
Citing sources close to the matter, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander has expressed concerns to White House officials that Anonymous could be capable of hacking into energy grids and creating limited power outages. Although the group has never expressed sentiments that would suggest such a plot, the intelligence community is keenly aware of the power flexed by Anonymous in previous large-scale attacks.
Experts contend that national networks would likely be able to absorb any attacks in stride and the threat of widespread damage is relatively low. But according to the Journal, the real threat could come from a stateless group such as Anonymous partnering with foreign adversaries motivated to attack American networks.
"It's a real threat," Center for Strategic and International Studies data security specialist James Lewis told the Journal. "You want to occupy Wall Street? How about turn off Wall Street? Even for a day."
Anonymous was quick to rebuke these assertions, however, suggesting that its accusers may have a larger endgame in mind.
According to TG Daily, one group delegate tweeted that Anonymous had no ambitions of shutting off a power grid, noting that the collateral damage could affect civilians that rely on the services for medical support and other vital activities. The hacker also pointed to the potential of fear mongering from NSA leaders hoping to turn public sentiment against Anonymous. As TG Daily noted, the agency's remarks were in stark contrasts the FBI's recent dismissal of the hacktivist collective as "unsophisticated" although criminal.
Hackers then turned their attention to the Wall Street Journal, launching a digital flash mob on the publication's Facebook page reprimanding editors for printing unsubstantiated reports.
"You equated Anonymous with al-Qaeda in your February 2012 article and the related coverage. With this type of coverage you may be able to stir up fear in the United States, but not in the land of poets and thinkers!" read one comment that was reposted en masse by Anonymous collaborators. "With this comment, we would like to oppose the deliberate dissemination of false information and express our displeasure with your lobby journalism."
Although it would be impossible to pinpoint the future ambitions of Anonymous or the true scope of energy grid cybersecurity threats, this latest clash between hackers and law enforcement officials comes at an interesting time. Despite its denial of the NSA's latest allegations, Anonymous has recently stepped up its attacks on government organizations. Just this month, according to CNET, hackers claimed involvement in disrupting the CIA website, infiltrating Mexico's Senate and Interior Ministry and gaining accessing the Social Security numbers and criminal records of nearly 50,000 Alabama residents.
When this track record is tied to potential links with terrorist organizations and hostile governments, as it was in the original WSJ article, it could merit more authoritative intervention on behalf of authorities. It could also strip away public support that has been a source of vitality for the cybercrime syndicate. But perhaps more importantly, it could spur the much-needed analysis of energy grid cybersecurity that experts have been calling for in recent months.
Security News from SimplySecurity.com by Trend Micro