You are currently viewing Anonymous: why are they always linked to shocking revelations?

In a world of emerging new technologies, it is no longer uncommon to hear about cyberattacks, hackers and information leaks. That being said, only a few hackers make themselves known to the public, among the best-known are “Anonymous”. 

“Anonymous” can be defined as a decentralized international group of hackers and activists. They are mostly known for their cyberattacks targeting governments, their institutions and corporations. This collective became active in 2003 on the imageboard 4chan, which was known for uncensored content and the possibility to post without names. 

In 2012, Anonymous was part of a list published by the Time Magazine called “The World’s 100 Most Influential People”.

But how did they gain such an important notoriety? Why do they continue to exist and cause trouble whenever they release information? 

This worldwide group often tries to reveal information deemed important to the public. Anonymous members use Guy Fawkes masks to hide their identities, as it represents a symbol of revolutionary protest and allows them to show that they are part of the group. At first, they were known for their online pranks but have taken interest over more serious matters as time passed. 

One of their first striking acts was the Project Chanology in 2008 which was launched as a video and happened to be a protest against the Church of Scientology, accusing them of trying to limit free speech. This was started as a response to the Church of Scientology’s attempts to remove an interview of Tom Cruise in which the Scientologist made various statements, including saying that only the Scientologists can help after a car accident and are the authority on getting addicts off drugs.

The embodiment of hacktivism 

Hacktivism is a non-violent digital activism where the aim is to achieve justice in line with the group’s cause, whether it’s political, social or religious. It could be to stop the financing of terrorism, vocalize disagreements about ongoing and potential war, or even help immigrants cross borders to safety, etc.

However, unlike typical hackers, hacktivists will work in groups, as a decentralized network to keep their anonymity intact.

Hackers will use different tactics, such as doxing, distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks or even defacement

Doxing is the act of publishing private or identifying information about a particular target on the internet, usually with malicious intent. 

For example, in support of the Arab Spring in 2011, Anonymous released the names and passwords of email addresses of Middle Eastern governmental officials.

A DDoS consists of flooding a server with internet traffic in order to prevent people from accessing it and forcing that site offline. 

This was used during the Project Chanology in 2008. After that, during “Operation Tunisia” in 2011, they performed DDoS attacks on eight Tunisian government websites while also providing protesters with documents required to take down the government. The group also supported the George Floyd protests in 2020 by temporarily shutting down the Minneapolis police department website and the Buffalo, New York, government site. 

On a different note, Anonymous launched Operation Darknet in 2012 where the goal was to take down the Darknet’s largest child pornography site using DDos, leading to multiple arrests by the FBI and the collapse of affiliated Deep Web sites.

As to a website defacement, it is an attack that will alter a website by deleting or modifying its visual appearance or informational content. In 2019, Anonymous targeted dozens of Israeli’s leading sites leaving them with a new main featured headline saying “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine”.

A leaderless organization: the source of their strengths and weaknesses

An emblem usually associated with Anonymous is a man without a head. Therefore, it can be seen as a representation of the anonymity and the lack of leaders of this group. Being decentralized makes them hard to identify and catch, and even when a member is caught, the rest will continue to thrive.

However, as it is a sign of strength, it could also be a weakness. As the group does not have a hierarchy nor a leader, individuals may be tempted to pursue their own agendas and use the name to draw attention to their cause. Hidden behind screens all around the world, it can be hard to differentiate who is actually a member. 

Impactful hacktivism: are they perceived as saviors or criminals?

Anonymous has had a big impact over the years by seeking mass awareness and revolution against what they consider as corrupted. 

Nevertheless, their actions cause controversies amongst the public opinion. 

Supporters have compared the group to “freedom fighters” and even “digital Robin Hoods” due to their stances against powerful organizations. 

Though, they are also compared as “cyber terrorists” and “cyber criminals” because their actions are unlawful and breach privacy rights.

The public opinion will never be able to settle on one perception over the other when it comes to Anonymous. But it is likely the group will keep going as long as injustices are perceived, whether people like them or not.

Were they ever convicted

As stated previously, there is no leadership. Thus, no action can be credited to the group as a whole, only some hackers were found and convicted. 

While they think they act for the “greater good”, it is important to remember that their actions usually implicate illegal activities. In fact, hacking, doxing and DDoS attacks can lead to law enforcement actions. To this day, dozens of people have been arrested for their involvement with Anonymous in the United States (US), Australia, the United Kingdom, South Africa, etc. 

For example, in the US, Jeremy Hammond, an Anonymous hacktivist released millions of emails regarding the private intelligence firm Stratfor. He was sentenced to the maximum of ten years in prison in 2013 for computer fraud.

But in the end, the Anonymous movement remains hard to be shut down in its entirety. 

 

Noor RAFOUK
M2 Cyberjustice – Promotion 2023/2024

 

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