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Anonymous (online collective)

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Overview Edit

The online collective known as "Anonymous" is a decentralized group operating in cyberspace. While scholars, theorists, law enforcement, and policymakers may not always agree on how to conceptualize or categorize the Anonymous entity, it is generally agreed that it operates with two broad tenets: (1) personal anonymity and (2) the free flow of information.[1] Anonymous is a loosely formed organization to the extent that it cannot be easily categorized. For instance, membership may be fluid; the Anonymous structure — or lack thereof — allows for participation in a single campaign or in a variety of protest activities. Further, members may have different interests and motivations for participation, and may use differing forms of tactics — both legal and illegal. As such, some refer to Anonymous as a group of online activists, others see the collective as a group of criminal actors, and still others have likened it to online insurgents.[2]

Anonymous came into the spotlight in 2008 with its first united act of "hacktivism" to protest the Church of Scientology. The church reportedly attempted to pressure Internet websites to remove a leaked video of actor Tom Cruise endorsing Scientology — a video that had only been intended for church viewing.[3] In response, Anonymous members banded together to make distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, amongst other things (such as prank calling, hosting proprietary church documents online, and sending excessive faxes to waste paper and ink) against the church.[4] This online protest later transitioned to physical protest, with masked activists gathering outside of Scientology compounds.[5] In another notable display of online hacktivism, Anonymous initiated DDoS attacks against PayPal, Mastercard, Amazon, and others in December 2010. This was in response to these companies pulling support and services for Wikileaks, which had publicly released a cache of diplomatic cables.[6]

The first instance of Anonymous hacking networks for the purpose of exposing data was against the security firm HBGary.[7] HBGary had reportedly uncovered the identities of Anonymous leaders and was planning to release this information to the FBI. Anonymous hacked into HBGary's servers and published the company's email online, exposing sensitive proprietary information.[8] Anonymous has since been involved in numerous incidents of data exposure to advance both political and social stances. In October 2011, Anonymous targeted online child pornography sites; after the Freedom Hosting server ignored Anonymous' warnings to remove links to illegal child pornography sites, the hacker collective infiltrated the server, took down over 40 child pornography websites, and exposed the names of nearly 1,600 active members of these sites.[9]

Some have even likened Anonymous to "the non-state insurgents the U.S. has faced in Iraq and Afghanistan — small groups of non-state actors using asymmetric means of warfare to destabilize and disrupt existing political authority."[10] Whereas traditional insurgencies may desire to weaken the control or legitimacy of an established government, some have suggested that the goals of the Anonymous "insurgents" may be slightly different. It has been posited that Anonymous actors — as insurgents — may desire independence from the government in the sense that government should not control the cyber domain.[11]

References Edit

  1. From remarks by E. Gabriella Coleman, Professor, New York University, at The Brookings Institution, "Hacktivism, Vigilantism and Collective Action in a Digital Age" (Nov. 9, 2011).
  2. From remarks by Paul Rosenzweig, Lecturer in Law, George Washington University, at The Brookings Institution, "Hacktivism, Vigilantism and Collective Action in a Digital Age" (Nov. 9, 2011).
  3. E. Gabriella Coleman, "Anonymous: From the Lulz to Collective Action," The New Everyday (Apr. 6, 2011).
  4. Ryan Singel, "War Breaks Out Between Hackers and Scientology—There Can Be Only One," Wired: Threat Level (January 23, 2008).
  5. James Harrison, "Scientology Protestors Take Action Around World," The State News (Feb. 12, 2008).
  6. E. Gabriella Coleman, "Anonymous: From the Lulz to Collective Action," The New Everyday (Apr. 6, 2011).
  7. From remarks by Gabriella Coleman, Professor, New York University, at The Brookings Institution, "Hacktivism, Vigilantism and Collective Action in a Digital Age" (Nov. 9, 2011).
  8. "HBGary Federal Hacked by Anonymous," KrebsOnSecurity (Feb. 7, 2011).
  9. "Anonymous Targets Child Porn Sites, Releases Names of 1,500 Members," Homeland Security News Wire (Oct. 25, 2011).
  10. Paul Rosenzweig, "Lessons of WikiLeaks: The U.S. Needs a Counterinsurgency Strategy for Cyberspace," The Heritage Foundation, Backgrounder #2560 (May 31, 2011) (full-text).
  11. Id.

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