Looking back: the five most important security stories of 2012

Enlarge / An overview of a chosen-prefix collision. A similar technique was used by the Flame espionage malware that targeted Iran. The scientific novelty of the malware underscored the sophistication of malware sponsored by wealthy nation states.

The dance among blackhat, whitehat, and greyhat hackers grew ever more intricate in 2012, thanks to a steady stream of exploits, vulnerability discoveries, and data breaches. In-the-wild attacks against Internet Explorer, the Java software framework, and other perennial favorites continued, of course. They inflicted plenty of damage on end users, but given their familiarity, they hardly stood out.

What got our attention were attacks on entirely new classes of devices or victims, or in the case of passwords and cryptography, the culmination of new exploit techniques quickly eroding the protection we once took for granted.

From our perspective, here are the five biggest security stories this year.

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McAfee Labs predicts the decline of Anonymous

Computer security firm McAfee Labs released its annual Threat Predictions report today, taking a look at what we'll see (and hope not to see) on 2013's deck of malware and viruses. Interestingly, McAfee's analysis predicts a decline in Anonymous' attacks, a rise in the frequency and sophistication of mobile malware, and a rise in large-scale attacks that aim to cause as much destruction as possible.

This time last year, McAfee's report for 2012 predicted that “Hacktivism and Anonymous will reboot and evolve.” While this year didn't see anything on the level of the hacks of Sony and HBGary from 2011, Anonymous did execute a number of high-profile attacks and threats. Now McAfee says that in 2013, hacktivisim will be conducted by more homogeneous, politically-motivated groups rather than Anonymous' pantheon of personalities and pet causes. Still, McAfee suggests that Anonymous may be able to stage a few high-visibility attacks in the coming months despite its predicted decline. The report reads:

Sympathizers of Anonymous are suffering. Too many uncoordinated and unclear operations have been detrimental to its reputation. Added to this, the disinformation, false claims, and pure hacking actions will lead to the movement’s being less politically visible than in the past. Because Anonymous’ level of technical sophistication has stagnated and its tactics are better understood by its potential victims, the group’s level of success will decline. However, we could easily imagine some short-lived spectacular actions due to convergence between hacktivists and antiglobalization supporters, or hacktivists and ecoterrorists.

The analysts go on to say that smaller groups with extremist views will redouble their efforts to hack bastions of democratic societies, improving their tactics “in sophistication and aggressiveness.”

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