Cyber activists supporting Anonymous have passionately sought to punish the corruption they see in authority – from digital security firms to big corporations to, now, banks themselves. A hacker splinter group called TeaMp0isoN says it has partnered with supporters of the extremely loose-knit network of hacktivists and pranksters, to steal credit cards from several banks including Chase, Bank of America and CitiBank and give the money to charities and “the 99%.” The project, announced yesterday, is called Operation Robin Hood and in response to the Occupy Movement.
Also announced yesterday: the cyber security market is (surprise) booming. This is the industry making money from companies and governments who want to defend and attack digital threats like Operation Robin Hood. Total spending will reach $60 billion by the end of this year, then grow at close to 10% each year for the next three to five years, according to a report from accounting giant Price Waterhouse Coopers. The United States accounts for more than half the total, with Japan and the U.K. the next largest markets.
The report says that “growing threats” and “increasing awareness” of cyber threats are key to the rise in spending, and it points squarely at Anonymous and LulzSec, a hacker splinter group that terrorized the Internet for 50 days last summer. LulzSec struck everyone from FBI affiliate Infragard, to Sony Pictures, to PBS. Like TeamPoison, the group, made up of about six hackers, had split from Anonymous at first, before partnering with the collective towards the end of their spree to collaborate on reviving the Anti-security (Antisec) movement. The group received plenty of headlines from the mainstream media on their hacks, their eventual disbanding and the arrest of alleged members.
All this, PwC says, is helping drive cyber security deals. “Against the backdrop of heightened awareness of hacks and deliberate attacks on institutions by semi-organized groups, the cyber security market is undergoing significant change and attracting investment from sectors that span technology, telecommunications, defense, professional services and financial investors,” said Rob Fisher, PwC’s U.S. technology leader for transaction services.
Money isn’t just flowing through goods and services, but deal-making too: nearly half the $22 million spent globally on cyber security deals since 2008, was spent in the first half of 2011. Thirty seven deals accounted for more than $10 billion in deal value, according to PwC.
Plenty of folks in the cyber security field have debated whether the rise of Anonymous would actually lead to increased spending on services like protection from DDoS attacks, which can temporarily paralyze a website, and SQL injection-type attacks that can raid a database and sometimes purge it of all contents.
Aaron Barr, the former CEO of digital security firm HBGary Federal, which Anonymous attacked in February after Barr tried identifying supporters, recently predicted that spending would not increase because of Anonymous, but shift in terms of its type. “Some companies have shifted the money towards website security and… anti-DDoS,” he told the press during a conference held by digital security giant RSA in London in October. Before Anonymous, the industry was seeing demand for DDoS-type technology focused primarily in Asia, but since then it had spread around the world.
PwC’s report suggests Barr may have been wrong, though it seems not to have been able to quantify the “Anonymous” factor in the spending rise.
The irony in all this is that Anonymous by nature is not a massive, global organization constantly plotting new cyber attacks against governments and corporations, but small cells of people working independently across the globe, some vastly more skilled than others in hacking, but sharing the same name. It’s the name that amplifies their voices, no matter how unlikely their threat may be (witness the much-hyped plot against Facebook earlier this year). When “Anonymous” and “We are legion” are invoked, many people take note, and a few get worried enough to get their wallets out.
Supporters of Anonymous are great at playing up the scary persona – the collective is borne out of the internet culture for trolling and exaggeration, and the macho, confrontational rhetoric that’s all over IRC (chat) networks and prevalent in hacker culture. In the end that may translate to one thing for the digital security industry: dollars.