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Modern field guide to security and privacy

This is Lizard Squad, the nebulous hacker group that torments gamers

Best known among gamers, Lizard Squad is both despised and revered for their seemingly random assaults on the video game world. They've claimed attacks on Call of Duty, Xbox, and Sony Playstation.

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    Gamers at a video game show in Los Angeles played the PlayStation 4. Earlier this year, the hacker group called Lizard Squad claimed an attack on Sony’s Playstation Network.
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Talk to any avid gamer these days and they’ll tell you about Lizard Squad.

This particular hacking group has been waging seemingly random attacks on the video game industry since the summer. They say they are doing it just because they can, and are both despised and revered by hundreds of thousands of people because of it.

Lizard Squad even sells T-shirts. Welcome to the 21st century, where hacking and other forms of digital disruption are entertainment, and hacker groups have fandoms.

And now, at least one security firm is tying Lizard Squad to the Sony hack. Earlier this week, Los Angeles cybersecurity firm IntelCrawler told Bloomberg that both Lizard Squad and Guardians of Peace, the unknown group that has taken credit for Sony, share the same hacking timelines and slang.

Whether or not it is true, many in the gaming community are convinced Lizard Squad is responsible for the Sony hack:

Lizard Squad burst onto the scene on Aug. 18, when they claimed credit for server outages for the games League of Legends and Runescape. On the same day, the group threatened to take down the servers for the video game company Riot Games and then proceeded to take down random players' channels on Twitch.tv, the live streaming service for gamers.

The nebulous group was able to take these servers down through a DDoS, or distributed denial of service, attack in which it directed Internet traffic to overwhelm its targets' servers. Less than a week later, Lizard Squad made headlines when it tweeted a fake bomb threat to American Airlines and successfully grounded the plane. Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley was on the flight.

The bomb threat earned Lizard Squad infamy and thousands of Twitter followers. That same morning, Sony’s Playstation Network was the target of a DDoS attack -- Lizard Squad took credit.

To date, Lizard Squad has taken down (or claimed responsibility for) server outages of the games GTA 5, Destiny, Doda, League of Legends, Call of Duty, and Runescape, among others. Microsoft’s XBox Live and Sony’s Playstation Network have been attacked multiple times, as has Twitch.tv, along with various streamers on the site.

One streamer who was the target of Lizard Squad’s shenanigans found his Twitch.tv chatroom swarmed with viewers that would donate to his channel with his own credit card, effectively donating his own money to himself. They’ve also hacked into various gamer’s computers, including relatively popular YouTube gamer Nick Sampson’s desktop, leaving him the message “lizards allow you to play for 1 hour then you must pay $30 amazon” earlier this month.  

Before their second Twitter account was suspended, Lizard Squad amassed more than 167,000 followers. They have a page on Know Your Meme, a website that chronicles top online phenomenon. Perusing the Lizard Squad public chat room while it was up revealed fans begging Lizard Squad to DDoS their high schools. Kids have sent Lizard Squad fan art while others have tweeted pictures with “Lizard Squad” written on their forehead, or just photos of themselves admitting to being overpowered by them.

On YouTube, searching “Lizard Squad” yields 42,900 results, beating the 19,200 videos referencing LulzSec, the comparable in popularity hacker group from 2011. (Note how Lizard Squad shares the same initials as LulzSec and the Lizard Squad original Twitter account was created at the same time as LulzSec’s).

Lizard Squad is unlike any other hacking group primarily because of their relatively underground popularity. According to the social media monitoring service Topsy, “Lizard Squad” has been mentioned 86,000 times on Twitter in the past month, not counting retweets.

Hacker groups that have come before typically attack sites far-removed from people’s everyday lives. Lizard Squad is different. It is going after something that young people use daily, something they love: their video games. Unlike LulzSec, Lizard Squad’s work affects ordinary people, by disrupting their entertainment.

This disruption has upset many gamers. Mentions of Lizard Squad on Tumblr are almost entirely negative. Even some affiliates of the hacktivist collective Anonymous are incensed, with one releasing a video declaring war on them (Anonymous as a whole, however, seems amused by them).

Encouraged by anti-Lizard Squad sentiment, a small group calling themselves Finest Squad succeeded in getting Lizard Squad’s Twitter account suspended by filling out Twitter abuse forms. Finest Squad also claimed to have doxed Lizard Squad members, which is when adversaries go after targets online by dumping personal or sensitive information about them on the Web. But it turned out that much, if not all, of the personal information on Lizard Squad members turned out to be false.

Recently, Lizard Squad made various threats to take down XBox Live on Christmas Day, even after some of their members were allegedly arrested. Members deny that is the case.  

So, why would Lizard Squad do this? Theories range from “because we can” or “for the lulz,” which comes from the online acronym LOL.

In multiple interviews with a YouTube personality known as Keemstar, Lizard Squad claims the bulk of their attacks are paid for, but these paid attacks are never announced on their Twitter feed as they are professionals and don’t want to draw attention to their clients.

They call themselves “DDoS for hire,” and say they provide this service “quite often.” Paying someone to DDoS isn’t a foreign concept in the video game community, and as a practice, has been going on for years. Gamers have been known to use this practice to knockout opponents in competitive matches. 

For mayhem or profit, love them or hate them, the kids these days can’t stop talking about Lizard Squad.

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