Incidents of "hacktivism" – hacking undertaken for political purposes – accounted for an unprecedented 58 percent of all data theft in 2011, according to the new Data Breach Investigations report from Verizon. The report surveyed 855 data breaches, where a combined 174 million digital records were purloined.
Those breaches were reported both by government websites and corporate entities; hacker collectives LulzSec and Anonymous led the charge.
"Hacktivism has been around for some time but it's mainly been website defacements. In 2011 it was more about going to steal a bunch of information from a company," Wade Baker, director of research and intelligence at Verizon, told the BBC. "Data theft became a mechanism for political protest," Baker added.
In the report, Verizon, pointing to the "Arab Spring" protests, called 2011 "a year of civil and cultural uprising."
Certainly, hacktivists such as LulzSec did hog a good deal of the spotlight last year, mostly by cultivating charismatic online personas – and popular Twitter feeds, where hackers could interact with their fans. "This is the first time we've had hackers who want you to know who they are," Chester Wisniewski, a senior adviser at Sophos, told the Monitor in 2011. "These guys are awesome at PR. It's very impressive."
In related news, Verizon has been tracking an increase in automated attacks, which appear to target mostly small businesses, and not major conglomerates.
"There's some franchise chains, but many times it's mom-and-pop cafés," Verizon analyst Chris Porter of Verizon has said, according to ReadWriteWeb. "These restaurants, retail stores, are really focused on building their business. They want to make sure when a customer comes in, they can charge him. And they're probably less concerned about data protection."