As top secret files rest in the recesses of high security government headquarters, a group of faceless activists are roaring forth down the other end of the Ethernet cable, ready to raid the servers and escape with sensitive information. These cyber pillaging groups are calling themselves “hacktivists”, and are rising in popularity as an alternative force to physical protesting. They aim to revolutionise the way we discover injustices wreaked upon us by major corporations and government agencies, with hacking as their weapon. They often state in their manifesto’s that their goal is to promote civil disobedience by showing us all the smoking gun of corruption, censorship and elitist rule.
One group who have proved a force to be reckoned with – by recently hacking into NATO servers and leaking information – is Anonymous. They are the most notorious and politically motivated hacktivist group by far, but are they really truth seeking activists, or just a herd of angry kids behind proxy servers, threatening national security and causing a nuisance?
Well first to understand Anonymous’ methods, you have to look at their past. The group originated on the notorious 4chan message boards in 2003, where they would vacuously insult other users and even hack into their computers in a bid to expose their true identities – something usually not correlating with their online personas. After a few years they took things more seriously and first gained media attention by launching DDoS attacks on Scientology, shutting down white supremacist websites and even turning in a paedophile who used the internet to lure his victims. It seemed Anonymous were using their hacking skills for good. Subsequently, they began to garner a more politically motivated affiliation.
Several years on and they decided to regroup after the political fallout caused by Wikileaks. As senators and politicians murmured about internet censorship, Anonymous hacked its way into history by shutting down Paypal in retaliation for making it impossible to send donations to Mr Assange through their service. Anonymous went on to hack the Bank of America – unearthing what they claim to be a treasure trove of damning documents –, shutdown 21 Malaysian government websites as retribution for their censorship of the media and also targeted the Orlando mayor’s website for sanctioning the arrest of people who fed the homeless. They even went on to leave a V for Vendetta mask outside of the mayor’s home, a symbolic nod to civil rights.
With the foreign language of the internet meme as their native tongue, Anonymous began posting videos of themselves roaming around in suits and Guy Fawkes masks on Youtube. These overly dramatic videos – narrated by the eerie monotones of Microsoft Sam – promote civil disobedience and even claim that Anonymous are somehow aiming to revolutionise the world with their hacking antics. Many remain unconvinced, as although Anonymous has done a lot in terms of exposing the lax online security government corporations have, they’ve hardly uncovered anything on the same magnitude as Bradley Manning did. You have to wonder if they’re not just doing this all to show off though. Perhaps their political targets are a smoke screen to get the revolutionists on side, whilst their ulterior motive is to simply flip two fingers up at gigantic organisations by dousing their firewalls.
I recently spoke to a hacker known as Prozium, who is supposedly a member of Anonymous. When I asked what their goals were he said, “We stand for freedom of access in matter of media and information. We believe in civil rights for all, and our goal is to promote the understanding of your human rights, pushing people to think for themselves and to take action against disinformation through peaceful means.” Although Hacktivists’ actions may not be directly violent, the disruption they cause has the potential to put lives in danger. Not to mention the detrimental effect the hacking has had on its own members, it’s believed Anonymous is being pursued by the FBI and arrests have already been made. Prozium told me “We’re actually being hunted down, but I believe the different police groups are just trying to make an example out of us. They know they can’t stop us.” I suggested that the recent arrests could be a sign that the authorities are finally taking Anonymous seriously, to which he replied, “But we’re not asking to be taken seriously, it’s our main strength. The less they believe us, the more we can find open fields for our actions.”
The problem with having an anonymous squad of hackers is that not even the leader themselves can differentiate between who is a fully-fledged member and who isn’t. This can lead to rifts within the organisation, and whilst I do believe that the core ethics of Anonymous are good ones, rogue members can quite easily taint their name, proved by a flood of porn uploaded to Youtube and the uploading of flashing lights to an epilepsy forum by hackers. Both of these deplorable acts were associated with Anonymous.
The future of the world’s most popular hacking group looks uncertain. It seems that Anonymous are still undecided of what they’re really about, no amount of contrived Youtube videos or DDoS attacks will help them achieve their so called goal of civil revolution and they’ve a lot more ground to cover before they can truly live up to their catchphrase “We are Legion.” If they’re to ignite any kind of social awakening, they need to stop firing pot shots and take a more direct aim with their targets. But if there truly is a way of changing the world through hacking for the greater good, then I feel the means could lie in their hands.