“THE CORRUPT FEAR US · THE HONEST SUPPORT US · THE HEROIC JOIN US.”~ ANONYMOUS
Ever since the emergence of global networks, a new era for mankind was set: An era mostly known for its online revolution, where people connect and share information from all around the world using social networks; but also an era where wars no longer require firearms and military training to be fought, but hacking skills and a simple motive. While hackers’ motives are very diverse (political, entertainment, profit…), curiosity and ambition tend to remain the true motivational force behind their work. Thus, by exploiting weaknesses in networks, hackers have engaged in many silent but lethal cyber wars. By connecting to social networks, they even managed to form factions and groups, combining their efforts to achieve greater goals and overcome difficult situations. Those were the origins of the infamous hacking organization “Anonymous”, which started out as a mere “internet gathering” on the imageboard 4chan, and has since grown into an anarchic, digitized global brain, capable of challenging the world’s strongest regimes. Hackers have existed ever since the dawn of computers, therefore the question remains — what kind of hackers hide today behind Anonymous Guy Fawkes masks? And can hacking be considered a force of good?
« They were once the very same reason we have antispyware programs on our computers today. »
Some of the most innovative companies of today originated from people who started using technology in ways its creators never perceived such as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. But while some hackers used their skills to fuel progress, others tended to use them to make others miserable: trolling, stealing, abusing…. Somewhere between these two classes of hackers, lies a third one, whose motives are considered honorable by some and criminal by others. These people are known as “hacktivists”. While today’s Anonymous is undoubtedly a loosely associated international network of hacktivists waging war against the corrupt, thriving to achieve freedom; what most people don’t know is that they were once the very same reason we have antispyware programs on our computers today. At first, back in 2003 when Anonymous was birthed, members of Anonymous (or simply “Anons”) were seen as an anarchistic troll army who enjoyed causing grief. However, due to the organization’s open membership policy, Anons quickly diversified. And with no one at the helm pulling the strings, a period of infighting erupted at the end of 2009 between the politically engaged members of Anonymous (known as the « moralfags ») and those who seek to provoke for entertainment (the “trolls”). This civil war lasted till late 2010, resulting in Anonymous becoming a more socially and politically engaged entity.
« Anonymous launched #opsony… an attack successful in taking down Sony’s PlayStation networks and websites. »
Since then, Anonymous amplified its operations against governments and corporate media alike, leading a series of cyber-attacks against those who dare deprive the populace of its freedom. Claiming that Sony breached the free speech border, and in response to Sony’s lawsuit against renowned hacker George Hotz, sub-groups of Anonymous launched #opsony on April 2011, an attack successful in taking down Sony’s PlayStation networks and websites. Operation Sony was part of a larger operation, codenamed “Operation payback”, a form of retribution against opponents of piracy, perceiving piracy as a form of internet freedom, given its unregulated and uncontrolled access. In 2012, Operation payback retaliated against the US Department of Justice for shutting down the website “Megaupload” for piracy and copyright violations, by launching a series of Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks (a coordinated attack used to overload websites with traffic leading to a system crash) on US government and copyright organizations websites, including the FBI. The main Anonymous Twitter account claimed at the time that the attack was « the largest attack ever by Anonymous ». Since then, the group gained international fame, especially after people witnessed how vulnerable their governments really were.
Believing in the vitality of revealing important truths to the public, Anonymous held close ties to Wikileaks, an international non-profit organization which specializes in leaking classified information. Wikileaks came under intense pressure many times for publishing secret data, but the denizens of 4chan were always at the ready to strike. In 2011, following censorship of a WikiLeaks document depicting massive corruption inside the Tunisian government, Anonymous quickly targeted Tunisian government websites, landing eight successful DDoS attacks. Anonymous DDoS attacks played a crucial role in shaping Tunisia’s Arab spring, exposing roots of corruption, and adding the flares that ignited a full-scale revolution. “Operation Tunisia” wasn’t Anonymous’ sole intervention against oppressive Middle Eastern governments during the Arab spring: The hacker group targeted a list of Egyptian government websites, released names and passwords of Middle Eastern government officials, and even got engaged in the Libyan civil war (although they got divided on the Libya intervention…).
« Within a few days… Anonymous claimed to have been able to take down over 20,000 ISIS Twitter accounts. »
In the following years, Anonymous expanded its list of operations, and in doing so, generated a series of FBI raids dogged on hunting them down. Their continuous crusade attracted even more powerful opponents, such as patriotic vigilantes (“the Jester” for example), and terrorists. Following the al Qaeda-driven Charlie Hebdo shootings, Anonymous announced attacks on al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other terrorist entities. After the events of November 2015, in which members belonging to terrorist group ISIS attacked Paris, causing the death of 130 civilians, the Hacktivist group announced #OpParis, declaring war on the Islamic state: “War is declared. Prepare yourselves.” Hoping to weaken ISIS propaganda, and therefore their manpower, a social media driven campaign was launched against ISIS. Within a few days from the campaign’s debut, Anonymous claimed to have been able to take down over 20,000 ISIS Twitter accounts. The conducted Twitter battle against online terrorism was largely criticized for presenting inflated numbers and for being innocuous. But while the amount of damage inflicted on ISIS couldn’t be determined, it is safe to say that hacktivists showed the world that terrorists are vulnerable.
After more than 7 years of Anonymous Hacktivism, the hacking group has certainly come a long way from its 4chan origins. Throughout these years, Anonymous’ decentralized command structure and open membership policy helped recruit thousands of hackers from all around the world, shaping a multigenerational and multiethnic community. Some may still be at school, while others are more experienced software developers… What started out as a simple internet gathering grew into some sort of a hacking syndicate, leaderless and chaotic, but more than capable of defending hackers’ interests worldwide. Rooting out corruption is their specialty, punishing the guilty is their duty; some tend to call them freedom fighters, whereas others learned to fear them as cyber-criminals. One thing is sure, they are not the modern day Robin Hood we thought them to be! They are anonymous, they are legion, they do not forgive, they do not forget, expect them…
Second year Law student