"We are anonymous, we are legion, we do not forget. Expect us."
Photo by Anonymous9000
Sometimes described as a collection of hacker activists, sometimes as a joke, Anonymous has been making international headlines for the past several years. Most recently, Anonymous came to the world’s notice for their actions during the WikiLeaks affair and during the “Arab Spring”. But who are they?
Anonymous grew out of the age of old-school message boards, particularly the image board, “4chan.” As message boards became popular, many people began posting as “Anonymous” rather than using their own names or specific handles. Some posters began to refer to “Anonymous” as if it were a single entity. Soon the meme spread and the group Anonymous was born. Today the group is most often described as a loose collective of internet hackers, though one does not need to be a hacker to join.
Some people, especially those who were active during the early days of internet message boards, view the group as a joke. They insist that there is nothing serious about it. However, governments and businesses who have experienced the group’s methods consider Anonymous to be a legitimate threat to information security.
According to members of the group, they exist to protect free speech, especially on the Internet. They suggest that the group’s attacks are nothing more than the internet equivalent of a protest. They draw attention to the unacceptable actions of people, governments or organizations. The group uses two main methods of attack: Dedicated Denial of Service (DDoS) and hacking. With DDoS, members flood a website to overload its servers. Hack attacks involve malicious unauthorized entry into websites to either bring them offline or deface them. Attacks are often preceded by Twitter warnings and followed with Twitter taunts.
During the WikiLeaks affair, Anonymous directed DDoS attacks against PayPal, Visa, Amazon and MasterCard in retaliation for these companies’ decision to stop processing donations to WikiLeaks. The group used similar attacks to bring down government websites in Egypt and Tunisia after these governments effectively turned off Internet service in an attempt to quell the rising tide of protests in each country. Targets have included white supremacists, the Church of Scientology, the U.S. Senate, the No Cussing Club and many more
Whether you regard Anonymous as serious activism, cyber-terrorism or a bad joke, you have to agree that the group is making waves. This is evidenced by the recent arrests of 16 suspected group members in the U.S. and several in the UK and Europe. Because of the group’s loose structure, whether or not these arrests serve to dismantle or damage the group remains to be seen. However, they are certainly out there planning their next attack.