Too Big To Fail: Why Anonymous And Hacktivism Will Go On After Sabu

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Earlier today, authorities descended on a hacker called Sabu and five of his cohorts, who are now in custody, with little love lost between him and the bigger Anonymous group with which they were associated. The reports claim that Sabu (real name, Hector Xavier Monsegur) had been an informant for months over the group’s hacking, distributed denial of service, and other attacks used to bring down websites against which they were protesting.

That’s an explosive betrayal that seems almost too dramatic to be true. But while the news today has surely rocked a lot of people, for those closely involved with this movement, experts in the field of online security believe it is unlikely to make much of a difference longer term.

Quite simply, Anonymous is too big to fail.

“Anonymous is a huge sprawling octopus, and Sabu and his buddies are just a few suckers,” said Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant with online security company Sophos.

Cut those off and the creature will continue to function — and if anything it will only be even more cross than before.

There’s no real estimate about how many people are involved with the group, but the kinds of attacks that have marked Anonymous’ work recently, DDoS attacks, rely on big networks of users operating in unison, “like a sledgehammer,” said Cluley.

Unlike other cases like Megaupload, where the central repository of information shut down, or the LulzSec arrests, which went after specific hackers who broke down firewalls, all these Anonymous networks need to do is follow a little light organization and they can continue to function. Anonymous’ supporters have said as much themselves: “Anonymous has grown beyond LulzSec and Sabu,” it noted earlier today, quoting the title of an article written on the Death + Taxes blog on the arrests.

I came in contact with the power of that crowd first-hand once.

Before I joined TechCrunch, I was with paidContent.org, and it was there that I first came into direct contact with Anonymous. Writing about a series of DDoS attacks that the group was leveling against a host of media companies in response to the Megaupload shut-down, I wrote a post in which I picked up on some info YourAnonNews had tweeted out hours before, about its size.

Over 9,000 followers, screamed my headline. And in response, YourAnonNews, a speaker of sorts for Anonymous, which has over half a million followers, tweeted that out. Twice. Sarcastically, no doubt. The effect? A DDoS attack on paidContent, of course.

That kind of thing doesn’t happen single-handedly but through big networks. And that number will have only grown since January. (Fingers crossed they don’t attempt to see if they can take down TechCrunch, too.)

What’s next? Cluley told me that he wasn’t surprised when he saw that Monsegur had been named.

He said his name had been circulating around networks that he monitors for months, and some may have already been suspecting him of snitching.

He added that there have been other names mentioned, too, that were not among the list of people named across the U.S., Ireland and the U.K. That could point to further arrests ahead, or just the loss of a few more suckers on the angry Anonymous octopus.

[Image: Morten Brekkevold, Flickr]