By now most Americans have heard of Anonymous. However, the hacker collective is innately hard to write about. There are no well-known spokesperson and the tactics this group uses to affect public policy requires explaining highly technical details.
Anonymous is known by a unifying symbol, The Guy Fawkes Mask. Guy Fawkes attempted to overthrow the monarchy in Great Britain in the early 1600s, but has been repopularized by the graphic novel and movie “V for Vendetta,” a story where a mask-wearing man takes on a fascist government.
In 2007, Anonymous gained national recognition with its confrontation against the Church of Scientology. Anonymous sent black faxes to the church, launched DDoS attacks (attacks that flood traffic to a website, causing it to shut down) against Scientologist websites and prank called its hot line in 2007. At this point, Anonymous was far less of what most would call a “serious” organization. They stated, “For the good of your followers, for the good of mankind—for the laughs—we shall expel you from the Internet.”
In September 2010, another hacking group attempted to take down the website Pirate Bay, a file sharing website that allows users to distribute content from one computer to another. Many US companies desired the site to be taken down under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Anonymous issued a statement regarding the matter stating, “Anonymous is tired of corporate interests controlling the Internet and silencing the people’s rights to spread information, but more importantly, the right to share with one another. The RIAA and the MPAA feign to aid the artists and their cause; yet they do no such thing. In their eyes is not hope, only dollar signs. Anonymous will not stand this any longer.”
In 2011, Anonymous also played a large role after Wikileaks leaked thousands of diplomatic cables to the world, courtesy of Chelsea Manning. Retaliation against Wikileaks was swift. Many said Wikileak’s head, Julian Assange, as well as Manning, deserve the death penalty. Internet companies took down the site and many US’ major credit card companies denied the use of funds to help aid Wikileaks. After this action toward Wikileaks, Anonymous took down Visa, MasterCard, Paypal, Swiss group PostFinance, EveryDNS and the website of Sen. Joe Lieberman who spoke out against Wikileaks.
When the federal government shut down a similar sharing site Megaupload, Anonymous targeted the RIAA, MPAA, Broadcast Music and FBI websites giving the same reasoning for their actions as the Pirate Bay episode.
Some of the actions taken by Anonymous have been less anarchic and helped law enforcement. One such act was the release of personal information on 1,598 pedophiles who were using Tor, a web browser for accessing the highly encrypted “Dark Internet” where drugs and child pornography are exchanged.
Anonymous is generally associated with causes of the American left. But Anonymous is making itself known on the political stage as a huge actor to be feared.