July 19, 2011 -- "Hack" -- the word won't leave the headlines. Today Rupert Murdoch appeared in the British Parliament to answer questions about the phone hacking scandal roiling his news empire. Lulz Security, a hacking group, recently claimed to have broken into the websites of the CIA, the US Senate -- and Murdoch's own The Sun newspaper. And last month hackers stole more than $2.5M from Citibank and caused the bank to issue 100,000 replacement bank cards.
These events have highlighted an alarming trend: Hackers are evolving -- and they are organizing and uniting. They even have a Twitter account. Before the advent of the Internet, we called such hackers "robbers" or "criminals" or the "mafia." However, now that the Internet has provided a way to enter the front door through the digital underground, hacking has evolved into a disastrous enterprise.
I'm seeing the evolution of four kinds of hackers who are forming cohesive groups that we need to pay close attention to:
Mobsters: The hackers who attacked Citibank are probably "mobster" hackers. Mobsters are hackers who are connected to large-scale criminal enterprises bringing new meaning to the phrase "organized crime." In some cases, crime families are hiring hacking groups to procure log-in information for one site knowing that many consumers today are using the same log-in for their financial sites as well. Citibank seems like a perfect example of this kind of activity.
Taunters: Taunting hackers are just thumbing their noses at anyone who dares to believe they have good online security systems in place. These kinds of hackers are breaking security settings, stealing email addresses, and bypassing firewalls just to show that it can be done, usually to the great embarrassment of the company being preyed upon. The hackers who keep breaching Sony's systems and the CIA website are most likely taunters.
Activists: Activist hackers aren't in it for the money -- they're supporting a social cause. The hijacking of the PBS website to protest the Frontline story on Wikileaks is a prime example, as are the attacks on Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and Sarah Palin. These are more like sit-ins, roadblocks and Greenpeace protests.
Anarchists: The fourth and final kind of hackers are those who are working to dismantle governments, disrupt the lives of entire populations or shut down some branch of government. Anarchist hackers may be engaged in what some might call terrorist activities and others might call citizen uproars or even revolutions. (On a side note, when hacking is sponsored by nation-states against enemies, this falls under counter-intelligence activities as well. The unleashing of the Stuxnet computer worm on Iran's nuclear facilities is a prime example).
Whenever those destined to engage in criminal activity of any kind begin to unite and organize, good citizens must pay serious attention. Metamorphosis is a dynamic process, and the hacking evolution is no different. As certain groups gain strength and numbers, allegiances will shift and factions will break.
And as they declare war on each other, the good citizens of the world, like you and I, can find ourselves in a heap of collateral damage.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.