Anonymous, the hacker collective known for its attacks on WikiLeaks detractors, has crossed swords with HBGary and two other private security firms in what has come to seen as the latest retaliation to the HBGary Federal CEO Aaron Barr's plan to hand over the identity details of the faceless hackers to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

In the latest reports, Anonymous claims to have uncovered proposals by a group of data intelligence companies to attack WikiLeaks ahead of reportedly planned disclosures on Bank of America (BoA). Besides HBGary Federal, two other security firms accused of planning to attack the whistleblower site are Palantir Technologies and Berico Technologies. Emails leaked by the hackers suggest the three private security firms outlined a plan to attack Wikileaks upon request from Hunton and Williams, a law firm working for BoA.

'The WikiLeaks Threat': Plan of Attack Leaked

The plan of action, as seen in a Palantir document titled 'The WikiLeaks Threat', included:

- Feed the fuel between the feuding groups. Disinformation. Create messages around actions of sabotage or discredit the opposing organizations. Submit fake documents and then call out the error.
- Create concern over the security of the infrastructure. Create exposure stories. If the process is believed not to be secure they are done.
- Cyber attacks against the infrastructure to get data on document submitters. This would kill the project. Since the servers are now in Sweden and France putting a team together to get access is more straightforward.
- Media campaign to push the radial and reckless nature of WikiLeaks activities. Sustain pressure. Does nothing for the fanatics, but creates concern and doubt among moderates.
- Search for leaks. Use social media to profile and identify risky behavior of employees.

Describing the whistleblower site, WikiLeaks is not one person or even one organization; it is a network of people and organizations acting in concert for the sole purpose of 'untraceable mass document leaking,' the conclusion noted, In the new age of mass social media, the insider threat represents an ongoing and persistent threat even if WikiLeaks is shut down.

Traditional responses will fail; we must employ the best investigative team, currently employed by the most sensitive of national security agencies.

Anonymous Vs HBGary

The hackers Vs security firms battle began late last week when Anonymous attacked defaced the website of the D.C.-based computer security firm. They then targeted Barr's Twitter account and tweeted his social security number and a file containing 50,000 HBGary company emails.

Barr invited the ire of Anonymous after he told a media outlet that he had penetrated the loosely-knit hackers' group and identified members through their chats and social networking profiles. He revealed his plans of handing over his findings to the FBI to help them make arrests in their ongoing investigation into Anonymous' 'Operation Payback' attacks against Mastercard and Visa in December.

Besides threatening their stand as untraceable internet users, Barr projecting the hacker collective as an organized crime syndicate angered Anonymous who consider themselves a democratic mass.

Now, a 4.7 gigabyte file of about 50,000 emails stolen from Barr's computer are up for download.

Besides this, Anonymous also claims that in HBGary Federal's computer system it also obtained access to Stuxnet, the sophisticated computer virus said to have been developed as a joint Israeli-US cyber attack against Iran's nuclear facilities.

Anonymous, when threatened...

Anonymous' response was typical - when threatened, the hackers dig up incriminating data and dump it on the internet for everyone to see. In the past, a copyright lawyer in England turned target and Anonymous leaked a database of 5,000 porn pirates he planned to sue. In December 2010, Gawker.com, which takes pride in exposing security breaches, also came under attack. The database that holds the usernames, emails and passwords of commenters on Gawker.com and sister sites Lifehacker and Gizmodo were hacked.

We're deeply embarrassed by this breach. We should not be in the position of relying on the goodwill of the hackers who identified the weakness in our systems. And, yes, the irony is not lost on us, the management of Gawker said in a statement.

However, it was with the 'Operation Payback' of December 2010 that Anonymous really made the maximum impact. After the whistleblower site began publishing 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables, WikiLeaks was put under pressure by a range of steps - from having its accounts frozen, flow of money cut off to having its Web hosting services shutdown. This is when the hacktivists stepped into the matter in support of WikiLeaks. The loosely affiliated group of Internet vigilantes launched a series of attacks against organizations perceived as hostile to WikiLeaks such as Mastercard, Visa, PayPal or Amazon.

In a statement on its 'Operation Payback', Anonymous said it was a symbolic action designed to draw to raise awareness of underhanded methods employed by specific companies in their dealings with WikiLeaks.

The Bank of America Leak

The latest battle being fought by Anonymous comes in the wake of WikiLeaks' planned exposure on the Bank of America. The hacker founder of the whistleblower site Julian Assange had first revealed the plan in late 2009 when he said that his organization was in possession of cache of information taken from a 5GB hard drive of a Bank of America executive.

It was only when Assange reiterated the BoA threat in November 2010 stating that organization's latest link will detail the the ecosystem of corruption in corporate America, that the 'wikipanic' hit the bank, after which it launched a broad internal investigation.