Will arrests slow down Anonymous, LulzSec?

The continuing arrests of alleged members of the Anonymous and LulzSec hacking groups suggests that either the hackers are not as clever as they want us all to believe, or that law enforcement is getting better at catching them.

(The third option of course is that law enforcement is catching all the wrong people, but we won't know that for some time.)

Last week, police in the U.K. arrested Jake Davis, an 18-year old who is allegedly 'Topiary,' one of the leaders of LulzSec and the chief spokesman for the group.

Davis was charged Monday in connection with attacks against the News International's newspaper websites, the U.K.'s Serious Organized Crime Agency and Britain's National Health Service. He was freed on bail today by a British judge.

It's entirely possible that the police have the wrong man. It would certainly not be the first time.

However, police claim they have found lots of incriminating evidence on a computer seized from Davis' home. The computer allegedly contains details of numerous pre-paid cards in false names, names and passwords of 750,000 random people, and drafts of a fake news story about media baron Rupert Murdoch's death (used in the attacks against News International).

Davis' arrest builds on a recent string of similar successes for law enforcement in Europe and in the U.S. In June, British police charged Ryan Cleary, a 19-year old believed linked to LulzSec, with using a botnet to bring down the website of the Serious Organized Crime Agency.

Less than two weeks ago the FBI arrested 14 alleged members of Anonymous in a series of early morning raids in cities around the country. All 14 have been charged in connection with a series of distributed denial of service attacks against PayPal last December. If convicted on all charges, each one faces a maximum of 10 years in prison. 

The arrests suggest that those who got caught were either brazen or careless about the way they went about launching their attacks. Clearly, none of them appear to have been particularly good at concealing their tracks. And there's no telling how many of them left incriminating evidence openly sitting on their computers for law enforcement to sift through, just like Davis reportedly did.

For their part, the FBI and their law enforcement counterparts in Europe appear to be working in more coordinated fashion than usual to track down members of Anonymous and LulzSec. It's very likely that the computers and other information seized from the recent arrests will lead to more arrests in the coming weeks and months. Their big challenge of course will be to make the charges actually stick.

It's too soon to say what impact the arrests will have on the activities of LulzSec and Anonymous. Both groups have recently rallied a lot of supporters to their brand of hactivist activity and it's likely that the arrests are only going to spur more attacks.

In fact, soon after the FBI arrests of a couple of weeks ago, the two groups released a defiant statement vowing to carry on their attacks and daring law enforcement to catch them. "Arresting people won't stop us, FBI," Lulzsec had said in a Twitter message after the arrests.

"We will only cease fire when you all wear shoes on your heads. That's the only way this is ending."  

Clearly, for the moment at least, the FBI and others seem to be intent on scripting their own ending.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan, or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed .


Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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