The hacktivist group Anonymous have been blamed for a lot of things they may not have done, from griefing to hacking and denial-of-service attacks on the websites of some countries' government. Are they a counter-culture force for good or are they a threat to decent people?
An hysterical report based on a YouTube video went viral, prompting many people to believe that Facebook was under threat of being hacked or subject to a denial-of service attack, according to Business Insider's blog. It was later denied by the group themselves, but who are these people and what motivates them to do all this?
Who they are
The Blackboard on Business Insider describes them as a loose coalition of users of a range of image boards and forums.
Anonymous has no leader or controlling party, and relies on the collective power of its individual participants acting in such a way that the net effect benefits the group.
The lack of leadership per se creates a bit of a mob mentality akin to the riots we have experienced here in the UK, with members proposing "raids" on other websites, groups or individuals, then being followed by others who are in it for the "lulz." They are not kids: many of them are adults in their thirties or older who take advantage of the anonymity offered by the internet to engage in a range of behaviours they would not consider if their identities were known.
What they do
While their earlier (and most reported) activities were basically pranks on Habbo (a virtual hotel), a profanity-free website, racist talk show hosts like Hal Turner, and Scientology, they appear to have developed a political agenda, with activism aimed at breaking down censorship and attacking companies that try to enforce copyright on videos, music and software. They often work with warez pirates to that end. Political targets include the governments of some Middle Eastern and North African countries in the name of political freedom.
Since they have no formally-recognised leaders, splinter groups often form, creating situations that bring the whole (dis)organization into disrepute, forcing denials and counter-claims. The point of the group is to be anonymous, so anyone can join if they conceal their online identity. When the Epilepsy Foundation website was hacked on 28 March 2008 Anonymous was widely blamed for the attack. However, it seems that the FBI said that it "found nothing to connect this group Anonymous (with these actions)," and that it also has "no reason to believe that these charges will be leveled against this group." Anonymous counter-claimed that the Scientologists had carried out the raid to discredit them because of Project Chanology, the ongoing protest against the Church of Scientology.
Some members of Anonymous (and their supporters) see themselves as a force for good because they take on what they believe to be criminal or unfair practices. They garnered a lot of support for exposing internet predator Chris Forcand, who was arrested when members of Anonymous contacted the police after some members were "propositioned" by Forcand with "disgusting photos of himself." It was the first time an arrest had been made by these means. They also leaked documents from the Bank of America citing "corruption, fraud, and improper foreclosures," apparently attempting to take over where Wikileaks left off. Apparently, when they perceive an individual or group in need of being taught a lesson, the ends justify the means as they barge in mob-handed and either hack or flood the website in question.
The lack of centralised leadership is the reason why the Facebook raid is on and off. The older, more committed members have decided to set up their own social network while younger, more impulsive members have decided to target Facebook citing privacy concerns. Meanwhile, the Anon+ social networking site is a mostly inactive, seldom updated blog with no social functionality and has been subjected to several hacks in the name of the Turkish and Syrian governments, prompting questions about its legitimacy as a branch of Anonymous, given the "sloppy security."
Needless to say, copycat groups have arisen. TeaMp0is0N has gained publicity as a black hat hacking group after famously raiding such targets as the English Defence League, Tony Blair, Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, Facebook, the Indian Government, NASA, r00tsecurity, unkn0wn.eu, Anonymous and various US government servers containing confidential information. They also targeted rivals LulzSec, branding them script kiddies that do not represent "the real hacking scene." Like Anonymous, they also target political entities. In the wake of RIM's offer to comply with the authorities in the wake of the UK riots, they hacked the Inside Blackberry blog and threatened to make the personal details of their staff public in an attack described by internet blog The Register as "a standard, run- of-the-mill hack."
In a bizarre twist, The Register reports that Anonymous and TeaMpois0n are collaborating on a music project, P0isAn0n. The plan is to flood the internet outlets YouTube and iTunes with the song, then give the proceeds to charity. Needless to say, any attempt to thwart this will be met with the tactics they are better known for.