Assailed by government anti-hacking investigations (which had no effect) and attacks from fellow hackers (which did), upstart hactivist provoca-troll group LulzSec called it quits over the weekend.
The group – now identifying itself as having six full members – posted an announcement Saturday calling an end to "50 days of Lulz" that included successful hacks of the U.S. Senate, CIA, FBI affiliates, Sony, PBS, Arizona's umbrella state police agency, Peru's state police as well as what might be the first call-in request-a-hack line in history (calls on which the group also used as reroutable phone-network DDOS traffic, which generated more lulz).
The release gives no specific reason for the group's decision to disband. It does make bitter references to the "brutal" environment of the Internet, implying the amount of pressure the six must have felt from both law enforcement and segments of the hacker community that exposed the names of Lulz' members and attacked its methods.
The release also hints at the desire of Lulz' members to escape the intense anxiety of life as a high-profile fugitive and slip anonymously back into the background.
Part of the anxiety may follow the arrest of 19-year-old Brit Ryan Cleary, who was touted by police as the mastermind of LulzSec, but dissed by it in public and in leaked IRC log files as a fringe player not trusted or more than marginally involved with group members.
"Ryan needs a psychologist," LulzSec member Topiary writes. "I will be his psychologist, in return for bots."
Cleary has been charged with five counts of criminal misuse of computers for attacks including the one that took down the site of the British FBI-like Serious Organized Crimes Agency (SOCA) and maintaining an extensive botnet.
Cleary also admitted having broken in to the Pentagon and NASA, looking for evidence of UFOs, according to British tabloid TheSun, which noted that Cleary's lawyer told the judge Cleary has Asperger's Syndrome -- the condition underlying autism.
Rather than the police, real pressure on LulzSec appeared to come more from betrayals and revelations of rival hackers such as TeamPoison, WebNinjas and TheJester, who objected to what they called LulzSec's arrogance and pretension.
Opponents among the hacker community – who revealed the handles, real names and other details of some LulzSec members and exposed some of the group's chat logs – called LulzSec'ers"DDOSers" and script kiddies out for glory, not legitimate members of a hacker underground with skills that go beyond using hacking tools written by others.
Lulz members apparently intend to go back to their previous roles as independents and as members of the larger group Anonymous, whose reputation for comparative maturity, political credibility and restraint grew as the antics of LulzSec grew more extreme.
LulzSec Tweets tell fans to watch the AnonOpsIRC Twitter feed "for glory" and to join the fun themselves at AnonOpsIRC, to which it provided a link that defaulted to the username LulzLizard (a favorite Lulz term for thrill-hackers) and the password #antisec – a reference to its final operation.
Adding insult to injury, last night TheJester (a href="http://twitter.com/#!/th3j35t3r" target="_blank">th3j35t3r , crowed that torrent haven ThePirateBay took down the LulzSec farewell note and torrent of its latest revelation of documents.
"#ThePiratebay deletes 50 Days Of Lulz tinyurl.com/6zdxwk8 #antisec - lol final death throws - that's how much lulz love you. #toldya" --th3j35t3r ǝuoןɐ sʞɹoʍ
LulzSec and Jester actually have history, at least to hear Jester's version, in which Anon members who later became Lulz tried (badly) to expose Jester's identity
Although its Tweets about the decision asked that those writing about LulzSec's retirement analyze the documents it released rather than the "silly" announcement of its departure, the release does show a conflict that must have been difficult to resolve, even within the group.
Lulz' rhetoric and its attacks have always been split. The group claimed it was working strictly for the lulz ("The raw, uninterrupted, chaotic thrill of entertainment and anarchy."). But attacks on Sony, the CIA and U.S. Senate showed the same motivating principle as more traditional anti-establishment hackers attacking seats of power simply to make them more uncomfortable.
More gratuitous attacks, and its thinly defended decision to post private account information that hurt the people exposed and served no higher purpose, eroded the group's standing as counterculture hero.
Lulz' insensitivity to that and the plight of customers of Sony and other sites whose data it stole and reposted, seemed more the random chaos of thrill-seeking griefers making themselves feel powerful by damaging those they considered stupid or technologically inadequate.
During the last 10 days of its Lulz run, LulzSec refocused on its political targets, ending a might-have-been-fake flame war with Anonymous to launch "Operation AntiSec" – a campaign to attack and encourage others to attack government agencies, police or corporations that seemed vulnerable.
Someone identifying himself as a member of the group told the BBC Lulz was targeting "higher ups" who make the rules for the real world and the Internet to "take them down a few notches."
In a Forbes interview, LulzSec member Topiary (who acknowledges having used the handle "Whirlpool" for the Q&A) said the group started as a thrill ride, but shifted over time toward "politically motivated ethical hacking."
"Behind the mask, behind the insanity and mayhem, we truly believe in the AntiSec movement. We believe in it so strongly that we brought it back, much to the dismay of those looking for more anarchic lulz. We hope, wish, even beg, that the movement manifests itself into a revolution that can continue on without us. The support we've gathered for it in such a short space of time is truly overwhelming, and not to mention humbling. Please don't stop. Together, united, we can stomp down our common oppressors and imbue ourselves with the power and freedom we deserve," the farewell statement read.
"We must now sail into the distance, leaving behind - we hope - inspiration, fear, denial, happiness, approval, disapproval, mockery, embarrassment, thoughtfulness, jealousy, hate, even love. If anything, we hope we had a microscopic impact on someone, somewhere. Anywhere."
The answer to that has to be "yes."
Even if it accomplished nothing else, LulzSec pushed anti-establishment hackery far closer to the mainstream than it has ever been, which is likely to encourage more borderline geek/activists over the edge into active political protest.
LulzSec also highlighted the downside of hactivist campaigns whose main weapon is to expose private financial information for the customers of their targets, or hurt tech companies by shutting down gaming sites, "defending" gamers by knocking their games offline.
LulzSec's reality-show grandstanding also portrayed hackers themselves as venal, petty, backbiting and callous of the fraud and abuse they bring down on the people they claim to be protesting to protect.
Overall, LulzSec made it look as if Ryan Cleary isn't the only fringer needing therapy and as if Sabu, Joepie, Topiary, AVunit and the rest of the LulzBoat crew can contribute a lot more in the future being anonymous than indulging their appetite for lulz.