LulzSec has a cute name, if you go in for that kind of thing, but a less cute hobby. It’s a group of ten or so disaffected, very young men connected only through the Internet who have in recent weeks brought down a string of websites of major U.S government agencies and corporations: They’re the newest tribe of so-called “hacktivists” to emerge.
The Wall Street Journal traces the roots of the group, a small splinter of Anonymous, which itself grew out of the older hacker group 4Chan. Anonymous, which has a leadership of around fifteen and a larger group of participants who sometimes number in the thousands, began by defending WikiLeaks, while attacking less-open institutions, like the Church of Scientology. It also attacked the online services of companies like PayPal that had refused to cooperate with WikiLeaks, and broke into the database of a U.S. Internet security company that was gathering opposition research on Chamber of Commerce critics.
The Chamber of Commerce attack was significant because Anonymous posted a trove of e-mails — a significant escalation from denial-of-service attacks to data theft. One 23-year-old New Jersey man who owns up to helping out with those attacks dismissed them with a question that strikes anxiety into the heart of art history majors everywhere: “You’re college educated and you can’t secure a server? How hard is it? They can’t keep a kid out?” Okay, not just liberal-arts types, actually: “Computer-security specialists are afraid to challenge Anonymous. No one is that confident in their own systems,” Mikko Hypponen, of computer-security firm F-Secure Corp, told the Journal.
LulzSec reportedly developed from the Anonymous faction that masterminded the attack on the security company. One reason why its rise seems so ominous: It’s the crowd with the least concern for traditional ethical norms even within a generally lawless larger group, which makes for a frightening prospect — especially since it’s become clear that banks and other companies storing consumers’ valuable personal data are highly vulnerable to attack. Rather than issue philosophical or political directives, LulzSec , which is known for its technical expertise, issues statements like, “This is the lulz era, where we do things just because we find it entertaining” and “This is the Internet, where we screw each other over for a jolt of satisfaction” — a soda slogan mashed up with an anarchist’s rallying cry. After British police arrested a 19-year-old man in connection with LulzSec hacks, the group released sensitive personal data about its members who were suspected of having been the “snitches.” Did you ever think you’d remember the time when the word lulz brought to mind endless pictures of cute cats as a more elevated era for our culture?