Anonymous: A glimpse behind the masks


In a new video released by politically active hacking collective Anonymous, the group has declared war on the U.S. government, as part of a mission they refer to as 'Operation V.' This follows an endless barrage of DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks they launched on government websites. As Anonymous steps further into the spotlight, concern seems to be growing.

"Anonymous has decided to openly declare war on the United States government," said the video. "This is a call to arms. We call upon the citizens of the United States to stand beside us in overthrowing this corrupted body and call upon a new era. Our allegiance is to the American people, because they are us, and we are them."

The hacktivist group enjoys increasing support on social networks, and has been bolstered by certain portions of the Occupy movement. However, their recent moves and motivations could be seen as anathema to the important working class values Occupy Wall Street represents.

Unlike Occupy Wall Street, unions, civil rights groups, and many other activist organizations who resort to civil disobedience only when it garners mass support for their causes, Anonymous appears to be willing to break the law whenever it has what it considers a principled reason to do so.

Recently, Anonymous have launched relentless DDoS attacks on websites for major record labels (including Warner Bros.), and the Motion Picture Association of America. They also temporarily took down the websites for the White House, the FBI, and the U.S. Department of Defense, among others. They have done this repeatedly, and have even recruited casual social networkers to contribute to the attacks, sometimes unknowingly.

The hacks and attacks culminated in the security breach and subsequent leak of an 18-minute telephone discussion between members of the FBI and Scotland Yard. The leak was posted on YouTube, in what was a highly embarrassing incident for both parties, who confirmed that the call was genuine.

The NSA has expressed fears that Anonymous could be planning an assault on the U.S. electrical grid, causing countrywide blackouts.

Anonymous' most recent target was the website for Interpol, which was in retaliation for the arrest of 25 alleged Anonymous associates (which had been in response to cyber attacks that originated from Argentina, Chile, Spain, and Colombia). Interpol called the raid 'Operation Unmask' - a tongue-in-cheek nod to the hacking group's penchant for wearing Guy Fawkes masks.

So why does this all matter? Because everything Anonymous does is - they say - is in the name of freedom of speech and civil liberties. Their DDoS attacks were by and large a response to anti-piracy legislation SOPA and PIPA, and their war declaration is thought to be a response to ACTA, a multinational intellectual property rights treaty that would crack down on copyright infringement and online downloading.

Notably, it would seem the hacktivists also exposed information linking GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul to white supremacists.

Jana Herwig, a researcher at the University of Vienna, Austria, remarked, "Anonymous, the collective identity, has now not only become a part of Internet lore, it is also already being used by people to nurture a resilient self who would stand up for his or her rights if necessary."

As for the mask they wear (popularized in the graphic novel "V for Vendetta," which criticized a potential capitalist, distopian police state), she added, "The mask may be empowering, lending them an apodictic rhetoric in the defense of their information rights, which not everyone may be able to muster on his or her own. Anonymous is also about the right to wear a mask, to make use of a speaking position that would otherwise not be available, both online and in physical space."

But critics feel that Anonymous will simply develop into a dangerous - potentially cyber-terrorist - outfit.

"This operation shows that crime in the virtual world does have real consequences for those involved," said Bernd Rossbach, acting Interpol executive director of police services, "and that the Internet cannot be seen as a safe haven for criminal activity, no matter where it originates or where it is targeted."

On the other hand, Anonymous has encouraged the Occupy movement and urged others to join in. However, it's clear the great majority of the Occupy, labor and progressive movements reject provocative tactics and are putting their focus on building a grassroots movement for economic, racial and social justice, which includes the electoral and legislative arena.

Whether this group is on the right side of history is yet to be seen. Either way, Anonymous have rattled many people with their slogan, directed at, they say, any groups or organizations who would step on individual freedom: "We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us."

Photo: An Anonymous affiliate and Occupy Wall Street protester wears the hacktivist group's signature Guy Fawkes mask. David Shankbone/Wikipedia

This article was updated on 3.3.12.

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  • The government made a strict law for the internet and now the anonymous won't hurt this precious internet. My friend told me they got stopped and they got a warning to go to jail if they still repeat it, nonstop.

    Posted by Bonnie, 07/05/2012 10:15am (4 years ago)

  • For the time being I support Anonymous. Wearing masks is incompatible with openness. But they have exposed corporate secrets and scored points against oppressive corporate practices. They often exhibit an outrageous sense of humor. Ironic that Guy Fawkes wanted to destroy parliament & restore total power to the English king.

    Posted by Butch, 03/03/2012 9:49pm (4 years ago)

  • Any statements or allegations that Anonymous is going to "attack infrastructure" are 100% false. Seriously, people, think about this for just 5 seconds? If Anon were to do such a thing, HOW COULD THEY CLAIM IT????

    If they knock out the power, no more Internet. If they knock out a sewage treatment plant, sewage backs up and floods their basement. No more Internet. Disrupting GPS? Timing circuits in the terminals and central offices drop out and xmit/rcv speeds crash into the single digits. No more Internet. Disrupting food supplies?

    Seriously? REALLY??? Do you really, honestly and truly believe that Anon would risk the interruption of their supply of Mt. Dew and Doritos???

    I'll tell ya who the REAL threat is, though? People that bring their iDevices, Android devices and USB sticks to work with them.

    I work for a major telcom, and I see it every day.

    People plug those things into the desktop, BEHIND THE CORPORATE FIREWALL, where a r00ted device has full access to our records, our test sets, the DXC network...everything. I have no doubt that every major telco out there has been completely r00ted and the Bad Guys/Girls have full, unrestricted access to the entire system.

    All it will take is running an automated script from the provisioning system, and the entire system gets disconnected. All the Alcatels, all the Tellabs, all the Junipers...everything. Wiped clean and reset to factory default. It would take *weeks* to rebuild all the connections.

    What's at stake? Well, the entire state of Virginia for starters? All their traffic cameras? *poof* Gone. The Ohio River Valley flood control dam network? *poof* Gone. FAA and NOAA radar? Yup, you guessed it. *poof* Gone. Railroads? *poof* and *CRASH!*

    Let's not even get into trying to get your money from an ATM, or paying for anything via a credit card terminal. Yeah, that'll go poof too.

    Dial-in backup you say?

    Over WHAT network. Copper is being phased out. Cellular? Ooops, those are linked via T1 and DS3 trunks, and guess what those run over? Uh-huh.

    Anonymous is very small potatoes compared to the *real* criminals, who I assure you, are fully capable of bringing this nation to it's knees. But's what nobody in all of this seems to be asking?

    "Why would they?"

    We're all connected in the world today. If we get taken out, then people all over the world aren't going to be able to get their Mt. Dew and Doritos. And that's going to make *BILLIONS* of people very, very angry. You can spout Allah and Jihad all you want, but if Momma can't buy her pita bread, she's gonna flatten your turban with your hookah!

    THINK, people! Think.

    WHO would benefit from such a disruption? China? See above and substitute rice, braids and wok for pita bread, turban and hookah. Russia? Borscht, babushka and samovar. Europe? Please.



    That's right. See? Not so hard, was it?

    And if you get a couple of OTHER governments in on the joke, well then HEY?! I bet you could cause a world-wide panic that would drive EVERYONE into the waiting, comforting arms of their government who will swaddle them in a nice, warm, dark room with a giant TV and all the McDonalds they can eat.

    Oh dear, did my Tin Foil Hat just show? *parts his hair*

    Does it look similar to the one that Richard Stallman wears? You know him, right? The crazy guy who started the Free Software Foundation and pretty much PREDICTED every major IP/Copyright/DRM/Surveillane/Civil Rights/Privacy disaster we've been experiencing for the last 20 years?

    Yeah. That's what I thought.

    So. Those who actually believe the FBI/CIA/NSA/HSA tripe that Anonymous is a bunch of EEEEBIL FREEDUM HATIN TERRISTS should just pause for a moment, and peer at the price tags hanging off all that gear that the FBI/CIA/NSA/HSA is wearing these days.

    Posted by SomeoneDeep, 03/03/2012 2:25pm (4 years ago)

  • This is an excellent and much-needed article. Marxists have never accepted the idea that small groups can make a revolution. Even if they could, what kind of a world could they bring?

    This article brings out what's best and worst about the internet and those who use it for better or worse. I guess it's "the force" with both dark and good sides, that we've heard so much about in Star Wars movies.

    Posted by jim lane, 03/01/2012 8:20pm (4 years ago)

  • Remember remember, the 5th of November.

    Posted by Anonymous, 03/01/2012 5:58pm (4 years ago)

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