Looking back on 2015, you can say it's been a pretty busy year for the hacker collective known as Anonymous. Just before Christmas, they went in on Turkey, launching a Denial of Service attack on sites with a .tk extension. The collective accused the Turkish government of supporting ISIS by “buying oil from them, and hospitalizing their fighters.” In protest, they took down 40,000 Turkish websites!
The group had declared war on ISIS in January following the heinous attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, when 12 people were murdered. Named #OpCharlieHebdo, the operation took down many of the jihadi forums used by ISIS members and supporters, within the first week. The group also uploaded lists of email addresses, social media accounts and personal details of alleged ISIS members to the Pastebin site.
These almost altruistic actions may sound very different from what you know of Anonymous from, say, 2009. For a long time, the group was only associated with trolling and general tomfoolery online.
Originating from the message boards of 4chan around 2008, the loose collective started out hacking targets strictly for lulz. With the ominous tagline “We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us”, and that creepy Guy Fawkes mask, their actions have deeply divided denizens of the Internet.
Some applaud their Robin Hood-style ideology of championing free speech, fighting any form of censorship or intellectual property restriction by a government or a corporation. Many others think they are a bunch of jobless misfits who should be arrested for their irresponsible behavior.
But whether you hate 'em or love 'em, their antics have made us all sit up and take notice. In the past decade, hackers linked to the group have made headlines by hacking Sarah Palin's email, taking down 'secure' government sites, even appearing in Time Magazine's The World's 100 Most Influential People of 2012. They've also hacked corporate giants like Sony and Paypal, played a part in the Arab Spring revolution, even DDoSed the United States Department of Justice!
Their recent actions have made many reconsider whether hacking can be a force for good. While we ponder that, here are ten facts I'm sure you didn't know about Anonymous.
10 They Will Take on ANYONE
Hacktivism (activism through hacking, get it?) has been around in one way or another for decades. In 1998, a group of hackers, Legions of the Underground, threatened to disrupt Iran's access to the internet in 1998, in protest of alleged human rights abuses.
Well, Anonymous doesn't stop at threats; anyone that goes against their values WILL feel the wrath of the collective. They attack 'enemies' by defacing their websites, releasing sensitive information and using DDoS attacks to crash the websites.
A few of their recent cyber attacks include:
- doxxing the Westboro Baptist Church for “being a hate group”
- taking down the Vatican's website to protest everything from Catholic doctrine to the alleged sexual abuse of children
- defacing the website of Combined Systems, a company they accused of profiting off the war in the Middle East
They'll basically pick a battle with anyone/organization/country they feel is being a jerk. And don't think they only care about the 'big issues'; they'll weigh in on 'smaller' issues. Just ask Donald Trump.
9 "All's fair in Love and War"
To the collective, all is fair in love and war. Anyone, I repeat, anyone who crosses the free speech they stand for will feel their wrath.
And quickly too. Former ally Julian Assange found this out the hard way.
In 201o, whistle-blowing website, WikiLeaks began releasing leaked US diplomatic cables, some of which were reportedly supplied by Anonymous. WikiLeaks soon came under pressure to stop publishing the 'secret' diplomatic cables. This pressure came in the form of payment services like Amazon, PayPal, MasterCard, cutting off their services to the whistle-blower.
As part of Operation Payback, Anonymous attacked payment processors that stopped servicing WikiLeaks, taking down the MasterCard and Visa websites in December 2010. But this assistance was swiftly withdrawn when Assange set up a paywall for people to access certain documents on the site. The hacktivists felt the information should be freely accessible, so they quickly withdrew all their assistance.
8 Low-Tech Raiding
Hackers generally disrupt businesses by defacing corporate sites and disrupting internet access. Anonymous likes to use a High Orbit Ion Cannon (HOIC) to create a botnet; these botnets are used to contact target servers every minute, leading to server overload.
But in addition to creating their own zombie army of computers, Anonymous has also used some pretty low-tech, but just-as-annoying methods in their operations. As part of its seven-year attack on the Church of Scientology, dubbed Project Chanology, the group resorted to using some creative 'low-grade' prank attacks.
The collective made tons of phone calls, phoned in fake pizza deliveries, signed staff up for embarrassing junk mail and also used the wasteful prank of black faxing. They sent reams of black pages of paper to the Church of Scientology offices.
Wrong; this prank causes the receiver to print out fully black pages over and over; usually until the fax machine runs out of ink. Apart from the waste of large quantities of ink and printing paper, the recipient’s phone lines are also be tied up as the fax is being transmitted.
Classic troll fare, but Anonymous were not done with the low-tech raids.
7 Not Afraid to get Dirty
As a part of Project Chanology, Anonymous launched a particularly 'dirty' tactic featuring an 18-year old member of the collective. Dubbed Agent Pubeit, the Anon paid the Church of Scientology HQ a visit in January 2009. He came bearing gifts, just not the kind anyone would want. His upper body was slathered in petroleum jelly, and had toenail clippings and pubic hair stuck all over!
Walking into the church building, thplot note Anon proceeded to rub up against everything in sight. Equipment, walls, everything; and the guards couldn't touch him. Some say it was a stupid move, but you've gotta hand it to them; the prank was equal parts gross, equal parts genius and a darn good laugh.
6 ZERO Concept of Collateral Damage
You've seen how quickly they ditched Assange when their goals were no longer aligned? The group will go as far as possible to prove a point.
In 2010, several Bollywood companies hired a software company, Aiplex, to launch DDoS attacks on sites that were pirating their movies. This riled the hacktivists who detest any form of censorship. Launching Operation Payback in September, they unleashed a wave of cyber-attacks on pro-copyright and anti-piracy organizations.
The Op defaced the Portuguese regulatory site, ACAPOR for trying to keep Portuguese citizens from accessing the Pirate Bay. A few days later, Operation Payback attacked the Ministry of Sound London website and the Gallant Macmillian website. Copyprotected.com and the UK Intellectual Property Office were next to suffer DDoS attacks.
Gene Simmons of KISS was quoted as saying, “Make sure your brand is protected… Sue everybody. Take their homes...” In response to his statements, the collective took down his two main websites. In response to Limewire losing a court battle to the RIAA, Anonymous took down the entire RIAA site at the end of October 2010.
Everyone, no matter how remotely connected, felt the cold chill of the collective's touch during #OpPayback.
5 Part-time Animals Rights Activists
You've seen how they attack anyone that seems to be bullying a weaker person? Well, they fight for animal rights, too. In 2009, a teenager filmed himself torturing his cat and uploaded it to YouTube. The 'smart' fellow hid his face with a balaclava, but by the time the video spread to the 4chan message boards, he was soon unmasked.
The Internet detectives on the boards (remember, this was the birthplace of Anonymous) soon tracked the abuser down via his Facebook and MySpace accounts. They set up a website displaying his name, address, name of his parents, their work address and phone numbers etc. They followed this up by bombarding the local police with calls to take action. Within a few days, the teen was charged and the cat removed from the home.
Just last week, in response to the incessant whaling off Japan's coasts, the group hacked over 90 Japanese websites, including that of the prime minister.
4 No Single Leader
The group supposedly thinks and acts as a group with no central command structure. By operating as a community, it's impossible to pin anything on any one individual. The downside to their decentralized structure is that the purpose and motivation of some operations aren't always so obvious.
Their anonymity also makes it harder to decide what can and cannot be done in the name of the movement. The amorphousness of the collective can be a hindrance, as different factions can be fighting for different causes, sometimes even going up against each other.
In December 2014, the Lizard Squad, a supposed faction of Anonymous, attacked the PlayStation Network, for lulz. Anonymous quickly released statements to distance themselves from such 'childish' activities. Other splinter groups like LulzSec were found to be responsible for attacking organizations from The Sun to the CIA. The sole purpose of this offshoot was to hack into as many large networks as possible and leak whatever they could find.
Putting people at risk simply for lulz is something the main group seems to be moving away from. But because anyone can 'join' and claim to be an Anon, it's become harder for Anonymous to police itself.
3 Solve 'cold' Cases
A pattern should have emerged by now; these are a group of dedicated "just-won't-let-go" individuals. Even in cases where they feel the local police are dragging their feet, Anonymous will jump in and get to sleuthing.
Following a party in Steubenville in 2011, an intoxicated female teen was sexually assaulted. Pictures of the incident soon surfaced on the Internet and were circulated in her school. When the case was reported, the local police dismissed it, citing a ‘lack of evidence.’
A local group of Anons quickly got involved and they soon gathered enough evidence, including the names and photos of those they suspected of the crime. The attention they brought to the case forced police to “do a proper investigation,” leading to the abusers' arrest and subsequent jailing.
2 Sometimes they get it Wrong
Thanks to their sleuthing 'powers', the collective may seem like they're all-seeing, but even they get it wrong on occasion. In 2012, following years of bullying and online sexual exploitation, 15 year old Amanda Todd committed suicide.
The Royal Canadian Mounted police put around two dozen officers on the case to find her bully, but after two weeks claimed they didn't have any leads.
The group soon doxxed a Vancouver-area man, claiming he was the one behind Todd’s suicide. Anonymous released information including his Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ accounts and home address.
Only one problem; they had the wrong house.
While they had found out who they believed was responsible, he didn't live at that address. This meant they could have been putting innocent residents at risk of attack from vigilantes.
1 Mo' Masks, Mo' Money for ...
Remember the end of the movie V for Vendetta, where a crowd gathers, all wearing Guy Fawkes masks? Doesn't it remind you of every Anonymous protest march you see on TV these days?
Every Anonymous video features three elements; an Anon with a voice changer, a dark hoodie and that wide-smiled, mustached mask. Anons identify with the title character, V as he seems to share a similar ideology i.e. "People shouldn't be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people."
But the mask itself which is used to obscure their faces in their videos and during protests, has an unlikely beneficiary. The V for Vendatta mask is a cash cow for Time-Warner Inc, as they own the rights to the image. Every mask bought, anywhere in the world, is an extra dollar in Time-Warner's pocket.
The manufacturer of the iconic mask, Rubies Costume Company, sells around 100,000 a year for for $6.49, £5.16 or €10.50. That's a lot of extra money that Anonymous is inadvertently putting back in the coffers of the 'big business' they oppose.