‘We Do It for the Lulz’: What Makes LulzSec Tick?

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If hacker collective Anonymous dominated the headlines the first half of this year, the second half may belong to upstart Lulz Security, whose brazen and prolific hacking is unprecedented.

In the past 30 days its targets have run the gamut from PBS to Sony to the CIA, and LulzSec has recently set its sights on Anonymous itself. So what makes LulzSec different from Anonymous, and from more typical cyber criminals and spies?

Without looking inside their heads, we can only speculate about the LulzSec hackers’ motivations. But there are a few things we can deduce.

They don’t seem to be motivated by money, as hackers increasingly seem to be. Hackers who seek to profit often do so by stealing credit card numbers and selling them on the black market, or through extortion by threatening gambling and other sites with denial of service attacks unless they pay for protection. LulzSec are also clearly not spies like the likely state-sponsored hackers who last month stole cryptographic keys from security firm RSA then used them to pilfer data from defense contractor Lockheed Martin.

(LIST: Most Memorable Hacking Moments)

If they’re not cyber thieves or spies, that seems to leave one option: hacktivism, or politically motivated hacking.

As of late, Anonymous has clearly fit that description, having come to mainstream prominence after it attacked PayPal, Visa, Amazon, and other companies that cut off service to WikiLeaks following the release of State Department cables late last year. Since then, Anonymous has targeted Iranian and Tunisian government websites, attacked Sony’s website in retaliation for a lawsuit against PS3 modder George Hotz, and most recently are seeking Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s resignation. But it wasn’t always this way.

The Emergence of Anonymous

Anonymous grew out of the riotous and rollicking online forum 4chan, from which many of the Internet’s memes—from lolcats to Chocolate Rain—have emerged. If you don’t enter your name when you post a message to 4chan (and no one ever does), the post is simply attributed to the default name, “Anonymous.” The fast-paced conversation on the site leads to an emergent mind collectively known as Anonymous.

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