The History of a Hacker Collective
Not long ago, Anonymous was a powerful decentralized international group of hacktivists widely known for various different distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. These occur when multiple systems flood the bandwidth of a targeted system, usually one or more web servers. Such cyber attacks are often the result of multiple users flooding the targeted system with too much traffic. The point is that Anonymous did numerous DDoS attacks on different governments, institutions, agencies, churches, and corporations. The members of that loosely bound group were known as Anons. They could be distinguished in public by the wearing of Guy Fawkes masks. It began in 2003 when they first started getting together on 4chan, an imageboard website. They particularly loved /b/ board attention-grabbing threads. Most people there posted deranged or obscene images, and the key is that they often did so anonymously so people could post anything they wanted to. In 2004, an administrator on 4chan activated a protocol that signed all posts as “Anonymous”. This led to a joke that all the crazy memes and comments were somehow really just from the same person. Eventually, a bunch of those hackers, geeks, and trolls collectively became known as Anonymous.
At first, things were just pranks for them. They originally started off doing things like invading Habbo Hotel. This was a rather popular virtual world with avatars built for teens, and some people simply couldn’t help but mess with them for whatever reason. Users of 4chan’s /b/ board joined together in a mass prank. On July 12th of 2006, they invaded the Finnish social networking site. The soon-to-be Anons went in with an avatar of their own. It was a black guy with a big afro in a black suit. Then, the anarchists became disruptive and offensive, just for the hell of it. The avatars blocked regular Habbo members from accessing the digital pool, which was the kid’s favorite spot to go. The people on 4chan even formed a swastika with their avatars. So, I guess Anonymous was born as a swarm of trolls. They just messed with people for the sake of messing with them. It was purely for their own demented enjoyment, possibly to prove a point, but mainly just because.
Although a lot of what they did was sort of just about having fun, somehow the worst thing on the web became a powerful force for good. Due to the growing traffic on 4chan’s boards, Anons began to plan their missions offline using Internet Relay Chat (IRC). During some of those texts, the clandestine anarchic freedom fighters decided to go after a white nationalist Holocaust denier named Harold “Hal” Turner. He had been using radio and online broadcasts to disseminate racist hate since the 1990s, which is bad enough on its own but that’s not why they went after him. The issue was that Turner said something fucked up to an Anon, so the group retaliated with a great vengeance. At first, they just berated him on his podcast time after time. However, in December 2006 and January 2007, Anons went a step further and took Turner’s website offline using DDoS attacks, which cost him thousands of dollars in bandwidth fees. Anonymous also sent pizzas, pallets of industrial materials, and even Craigslist escorts to Turner’s home, which cost him even more money. Since Hal Turner produced everything on his own, this stopped the broadcast of his show. Furthermore, since Anonymous is not only trolls but also hackers. Anonymous really got him when they hacked his servers. Anons got into Hal’s emails and found out that he was an FBI informant so they outed him as a snitch. This severely damaged his reputation among neo-Nazi outlaws and terrorists in America and around the world. Thus, negatively impacting his career as a white nationalist spokesman.
Following that, in 2008 Anonymous began operation Project Chanology. It all started after a gossip blog posted a video of Tom Cruise praising Scientology. Then, the Church responded with a cease-and-desist letter for violation of copyright. So, Anons organized a raid against the Church in retaliation, prank-calling its hotline, sending black faxes to waste printer ink, and launching waves of DDoS cyber attacks against its websites. Project Chanology was really the first official operation of Anonymous. This is when the codes of conduct were established. In February of 2008 Anonymous stepped out of cyberspace and made public appearances around the world protesting the Church of Scientology. Almost a thousand Anons took part in Australia. In Israel, there were both Israeli and Palestinian Anons joining together in defiance of Scientology. The two even switched the flags they were waving. Hundreds of Anons gathered in major cities around the world including London and Berlin. This was the first time they had ever met face-to-face. Project Chanology galvanized the group in numerous different ways, but they also lost their anonymity in the process. Nonetheless, their attacks were pretty brutal. The Church made a video claiming that Anons were responsible for more than 8,000 harassing or threatening phone calls, over 3 million malicious emails, 144 million website attacks, 10 attacks of vandalism, 22 bomb threats, and 8 death threats against members and officials of the Church. So, the FBI went after members of Anonymous. As part of that, six months after the 3-week long cybercrime spree, they found Brian Mettenbrink at home with his family. He had done the second most damage with DDOS attacks. Mind you, he didn’t threaten anyone or try to harm anybody, he just messed with their websites. Still, he was prosecuted and served a year in prison and then a year of supervised release. Apparently, the Church of Scientology has great lawyers as well as lots of things to hide.
In 2010 Anonymous was driven by another goal. WikiLeaks had dumped diplomatic cables, which contain nearly 400,000 US files on the Iraq War. It was the largest leak of classified files in history. Then Paypal, Mastercard, and Amazon pulled services from WikiLeaks. This restricted their donations from being processed, making Anonymous furious as a result. During Operation Payback, in a matter of only a couple of days, Anons had disabled the websites of PayPal and MasterCard. Anonymous was also involved in more political missions like Operation Tunisia, Operation Libya, Operation Algeria, and Operation Egypt. Governments want to avoid scrutiny but it is the right of citizens to know. Hacktivists are essential to a fully functioning democracy in the Digital Age of information warfare. That’s why Anonymous used to encourage whistleblowers to come forward with data from corrupt corporations and documents from corrupt governments. They even went after the company HBGary which had been plotting against hackers, journalists, document dumps, and everything else Anonymous stood for. So, in their efforts to gain worldwide freedom of information, Anons went to the defense of WikiLeaks and the Internet. They hacked into the company servers of HBGary and found emails from the now-former CEO in which he discussed the various different ways that they could sabotage the efforts of what they saw as terrorists like Edward Snowden and by extension Glenn Greenwald. This is what Aaron Barr sent out regarding WikiLeaks:
Along with this, there was a splinter group called LulzSec that was led by the hacker Sabu. They began to go off on missions of their own, like attacking the media starting with Frontline. LulzSec hacked the Fox Network in 2011. They also leaked UK bank account details. This was not just cybercrime, it was cyberterrorism. LulzSec was something very much different from Anonymous. They hacked AT&T, NATO, and Sony. Then, Sabu was arrested on June 7th of 2011 by the FBI and LulzSec was taken down. After that, Sabu and the FBI brought about AntiSec, which was launched on June 19th. Together they hacked government agencies, banks, large corporations, and more. There was even “Fuck the FBI Fridays” where AntiSec would dump FBI files. Little did anyone know, they were coming directly from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Then, Sabu, in secret collusion with the FBI, began promoting the Occupy Wall Street movement on September 17th with a call to action:
The FBI infiltrated Anonymous for nine months through Sabu. In this way, they effectively neutralized the group. Since he went down, there has just been far too much paranoia about everyone being a possible informant for anyone to ever actually even just begin to try and get anything done. The federal government brought down the entire decentralized collective. Thanks to Hector Monsegur (aka Sabu) there are no more Anons out there defending the Internet. Peter Fein can no longer be an Internaut hacktivist working on their behalf. The propagandist Barret Brown no longer serves as the self-appointed spokesman of Anonymous. Andrew Auernheimer (aka Weev) is no longer the chief troll among the tribe. The “Electronic Robin Hood” Jeremy Hammond (aka Anarchaos) will not take part in some future project, all thanks to one man working with “the man”.
The FBI used Sabu to initiate the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement to flush out Anons and other radical activists. They also used the formation of mobs in the streets to bring about more government crackdowns. In the process, the FBI weakened Anonymous, while simultaneously strengthening the power of the police state. This brought about, even more, surveillance and arrests to put more and more people into the broken criminal justice system. After all, privatized prisons have quotas to fill and prosecutors love to help them with their demands. So, thousands and thousands of protesters were taken into custody across the nation during OWS. There were 2,000 arrests in New York City alone. As a consequence of this, the national and international resistance is now much weaker. It’s sad that they’re gone but I’m glad that Anonymous was here for as long as it was. Hacktivists are now a vital part of modern society, so civilizations will inevitably fall in their absence.