Earlier this year, I speculated that despite high-profile arrests of leading lights from LulzSec and Anonymous, hacktivism would persist as a problem. I presumed that the game of Whac-A-Mole would continue, with a dozen hackers popping up to replace each one arrested.
I now think I was wrong.
As far as the United States and Western Europe are concerned, at least, the heyday of the merry pranksters may really be over. I think that we can see why.
One quick and dirty measure of hacktivity is looking at Google hits for LulzSec with different months in the search phrase. Searching for LulzSec with the terms "April 2012" or "May 2012" returns about 300,000 hits. Using "August 2012" in the search returns less than half that number.
More incisive results can be obtained using Google Insights. LulzSec rang the bell with a 100-point score on the Google Insights 100-point scale in July 2011 -- when it hijacked The Sun newspaper's Website -- and again in March this year, when the arrests took place. Over the last three months, curiosity has flatlined at a bleak five out of 100.
This only confirms what security watchers already know: LulzSec has not been making headlines (it's difficult, for obvious reasons, to perform quick and dirty checks on "Anonymous"). The arrests can't be the sole reason for this. There was no formal qualification for admittance to LulzSec or Anonymous. Anyone -- in principle and in practice -- could (and did) sail under those flags.
There are two real reasons, and we can now see that they're related. Quite unlike cybercriminals -- the hackers who want to steal your secrets and your money -- the Lulz cats thrive on what we've learned to call "the oxygen of publicity."
Why grab passwords from law enforcement Websites, re-tool The Sun's front page, or bring Sony Pictures crashing to its knees if you can't brag about it? Those who remember LuzlSec's Twitter feed, The Lulz Boat (inactive for over a year now), will recall the endless bragging about successful exploits.
It was this high public profile, essential to the thrill of the game, which made it imperative for law enforcement to crack down. The FBI, one might say, is not mocked. The Sony Pictures attack, the motivation for which has never been well explained, was a serious matter, causing astronomical damage to the corporation.
Indeed, the only recent headline garnered by LulzSec was the arrest this week of another hacker on suspicion of participating in the Sony attack. Raynaldo Rivera, 20, of Tempe, Ariz., becomes the latest hacktivist to discover that the anonymity of a jail cell, as he awaits trial, is less pleasant than the anonymity of the Internet.
Hackers may be a pest, but they're an intelligent breed. It must be obvious by now that while they may be able to outwit the authorities online, it's not so easy to elude old-fashioned police methods -- including, of course, the use of informants. Certainly not, while at the same time broadcasting your triumphs to the world.
The future of hacking, for better or worse, lies with the true, criminal underground, who seek something other than notoriety.
— Kim Davis , Community Editor, Internet Evolution