Anonymous is back – that appears to be the verdict on social media platforms. On May 29, Anonymous posted a video message on their Facebook page, issuing a warning to the Minneapolis Police Department for the deliberate killing of George Floyd in USA. Along with that, on its social media platforms, Anonymous sounded the alarm on many public figures, stating that it will disclose proof of severe wrongdoing against these people. The collective has since allegedly taken down the Minneapolis Police Department website, and released documents that appear to prove, among other things, the killing of Princess Diana by the English royal family, and allegations of rape of a 13-year-old by now US president, Donald Trump.
Many new users of the internet, however, may not be well versed with the lore and internet culture stardom that surrounded Anonymous during its formative years, and the subsequent time around its biggest activities on the internet. On this note, we take a look at who Anonymous is, what their biggest achievements have been so far, how their activity dwindled in the recent years, and what their recent message can signify.
Who is Anonymous?
One of, if not the most famous collective of online hackers and hacktivists in the world, Anonymous is a decentralised organisation spread across the world. It is not a formal organisation or company, and is known to not follow a set structure of power or hierarchy. In fact, Anonymous’ members are believed to be spread across the world, and have typically come together under the banner to carry out operations that typically send across a political message.
Anarchy has been a consistent theme of Anonymous’ operations, but its anti-establishment moves have typically received considerable support from the common people, and at times, large chunks of the global media. Prior to making a move, Anonymous has been known to post a video message as a warning against the organisation they target. Their motto, “We are Anonymous. We are legion. We do not forgive, we do not forget. Expect us”, became a popular signage of socio-political resistance. Anonymous has typically taken anti-surveillance and anti-censorship stances, even though many have often questioned the real world impact of Anonymous’ activities. Anonymous also popularised the Guy Fawkes mask, a style adopted from V for Vendetta, as part of their identity in both the virtual and the real worlds.
Biggest hacks and achievements
Anonymous’ notable actions began with Project Chanology in 2008, where for a period of about three months, they targeted the Church of Scientology as a retaliation against its corporate entity-like behaviour. In the following years, Anonymous switched to companies targeting copyright preservation, interpreting them as those who restrict free speech. One of the companies they targeted at this time was Aiplex, an Indian software firm that used to host DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks against Torrent sites to prevent piracy of movies.
These actions soon grew to a wider scale, to a point where it was labelled ‘Operation Payback’ by Anonymous. The collective’s targets included various movie and art studios and production houses of America, as well as copyright protection groups. The operation grew through 2009 and 2010, with Anonymous taking down various entities such as the United States Copyright Office, Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft and many others across the world. The objective behind these operations were to open up the internet and restrict stifling of content consumption via copyrights, which in Anonymous’ views were largely arbitrary.
Anonymous also contributed to the cause of Julian Assange, where it became vocal supporters of WikiLeaks. In response to those who attempted to take WikiLeaks down, Anonymous launched cyber operations against many corporate entities, of which PayPal was the biggest affected. Anonymous’ DDoS attacks against PayPal are said to have cost the company over $5 million. Anonymous’ direct attack on those who did not support WikiLeaks caused plenty of noise, revealing private emails and other documents conspiring against Assange.
Anonymous also took on Sony for denying hackers to find flaws in its PlayStation 3 console, compromising over 100 million Sony accounts and taking down PlayStation Network for over a month. The collective has been an active voice against homophobia, racism and child pornography, taking down and exposing various figures in these acts. It has also notably acted against the Ku Klux Klan, revealing details of various KKK members. On an isolated basis, Anonymous has been a sharp actor against numerous national governments, from time to time.
Arrests and downtime
Over the past few years, isolated activities led to arrests of various Anonymous members around the world. These included individuals such as Jake ‘Topiary’ Davis, Hector ‘Sabu’ Monsegur, Barrett Brown and others. Many of Anonymous’ arrests have been linked to their decentralised organisational structure and a lack of unified thought process. Anonymous members have often been known for having diverse, and sometimes sharply different socio-political views, which have reportedly been the reason behind internal indecisions.
Because of the way they operate, Anonymous has been difficult to track down by journalists and law enforcement agencies. In recent times, a number of these reasons coming together is what is believed to have caused a decline in the fear and enigma typically associated with Anonymous. Many also started questioning the efficacy of a collective like Anonymous, and started raising questions in terms of how much power their hacks truly wielded now.
With protests over the police killing of George Floyd leading to the breakout of riots, Anonymous’ comeback video suggests that certain key members of the group may still be active. The hacking and divulging style shown by Anonymous have so far been uniform with their previous acts, which have led many to believe that serious repercussions will come from the documents that Anonymous is exposing online. Now, only time will tell if Anonymous’ second coming has the impact that many around the world are hoping it does.