Anonymous (group)

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Anonymous are a hacker group that originally formed on 4chan. Their main goal is to defend the Net against various organisations which they see as attacking or abusing it; they do this primarily by attacking the networks of those organisations.

Tools and organisation

One of their main weapons is software called LOIC, Low Orbit Ion Cannon; the image is an armed satellite that reduces buildings below to smoking heaps of rubble. The reality is more prosaic; LOIC creates a voluntary botnet which conducts denial of service attacks. That is, it allows a user to volunteer his or her computer to become part of a group of machines which jointly attack a target. Targets are announced via IRC discussions or other channels. Anyone who has downloaded LOIC (estimated 40,000 as of late 2011) can join an attack just by typing the target name into the software.

LOIC has been analysed by researchers. Anonymous players using LOIC are not really anonymous; the attacks are easily traced.[1]

There is a legal argument that participating in a group effort to flood a website and thereby knock it offline (a denial of service attack using LOIC) is not illegal "hacking", merely the quite legal cyber-equivalent of participating in a sit-in. Instead of disrupting some apparently evil organisation's activities by sitting in at their offices (which is only effective if a lot of people join in), you just tell your computer to hammer their web site with requests (which crashes the site if enough people do it). Of course lawyers for the targets of such attacks are almost certain to reject this argument, as are prosecutors in some jurisdictions. Morozov mentions one German court decision in which the argument was accepted, but unfortunately he does not give a legal citation[2].

LOIC has been exploited as a vector for malware; a version containing a trojan for the Zeus botnet[3] was distributed at one point.

Not all their attacks use LOIC or are limited to denial of service. One description of Anonymous is:

“Anonymous is a handful of geniuses surrounded by a legion of idiots,” said Cole Stryker, an author who has researched the movement. “You have four or five guys who really know what they’re doing and are able to pull off some of the more serious hacks, and then thousands of people spreading the word, or turning their computers over to participate in a DDoS attack.” [4]

Another description, from inside the group, is:

The average Anon is not like me, working 12 hours a day dedicating their life to this. He’s an IT guy or a cable installer with a few hours to spare and he wants to be told what to do. It takes organizers to get things done. [5]

Basically, LOIC is a tool that allows a large number of players (the "legion of idiots" or the "average Anon") to participate in attacks. However, the "handful of geniuses" have a rather broad range of other weapons.


Anonymous — or parts of Anonymous, or groups loosely affiliated with them, or people claiming to be Anonymous (it is almost impossible to distinguish) — have attacked a rather wide range of targets.


Their first attacks in 2008 were against the Church of Scientology, which has a long history of controversial actions involving the Net. Wired has a history of how Project Chanology and Anonymous itself developed, originally out of discussions on 4Chan[6]. Anonymous have also posted their own version of the tale:

Anonymous originally chose Scientology as a campaign target because of the events surrounding the now infamous Tom Cruise Scientology video. While the video itself was not enough to spark interest, the untamed aggression of the Church of Scientology to remove it did.[7]

The attack was not limited to on-the-net actions.

Our short-term goal is to advocate rescinding the Scientology organization’s tax exempt status, ensuring that the organization remains unable to perpetuate its history of intimidation, disconnection and other illegal or otherwise unethical activities.[7]

Some Anonymous members were convicted for some of these attacks[8].

Attacking media companies

Their Operation Payback[9] was a series of denial of service (DoS) attacks against companies which had been conducting DoS attacks on BitTorrent sites. Later it broadened to include attacks on a number of film and music companies who were attacking "piracy" in various other ways. In particular, they have attacked Sony's PSN, the Playstation Network, several times.[10]

Defending WikiLeaks

In December 2010 Anonymous "declared war" on the enemies of WikiLeaks; see the WikiLeaks article. Since then, more of their attacks have been relatively sophisticated and many of the targets have been members of the (mainly US) security apparatus attacking WikiLeaks.

One attack was against HBGary, a computer security firm that does quite a bit of business with the US government. The company planned attacks on WikiLeaks[11]. Anonymous broke into the company networks and posted various documents they found there to WikiLeaks [12].

In December 2011, they broke into the US-based think tank Stratfor, which claims to provide "global intelligence" and whose clients include major companies and several US government departments. They made off with a client list, which they promptly published, and a large amount of email.[13] Somewhat later, WikiLeaks began to release the email files, calling them the global intelligence files.

Early in 2012, they released tapes of a conference call between the FBI and Scotland Yard discussing the two agencies' plans against Anonymous[14].

In February 2012, someone took down the CIA website with a distributed denial of service attack. Some have attributed this to Anonymous, but the attribution is distinctly uncertain[15].

Defending the Pirate Bay

In May 2012, Anonymous did a bit of returning to their roots, attacking a site for its owners' "anti-piracy" actions. The briefly took down the British Internet firm Virgin Media site with a DDoS attack because Virgin was blocking the Pirate Bay in compliance with a UK court order to all ISPs.

Interestingly, the Pirate Bay were critical of this move, saying "We believe in the open and free Internet, where anyone can express their views. Even if we strongly disagree with them and even if they hate us. So don’t fight them using their ugly methods. DDOS and blocks are both forms of censorship."[16]

A few days later, the Pirate Bay was itself taken down by a DDoS attack, apparently at the hands of an anti-Anonymous hacker[17].

Attacking banks?

Late in 2011, some Anonymous participants suggested Operation Robin Hood[18], making donations to various worthy charities using credit card information stolen from major banks. The YouTube video which announced the attacks "also claimed that the group had already used credit card data stolen from Bank of America, Chase, and CitiBank."[18]

Six months later, this appears to have been a clever hoax. Anonymous have not announced the results of any such attacks, nor have the banks been howling about them.

A cyber-stalker

In an odd return to their roots, working against abuse of the net, Anonymous recently named the man who apparently drove Canadian teenager Amanda Todd to suicide with bullying over the net. [1] They also claimed he had made postings to child pornography sites.

Police are investigating, and say they are taking the Anonymous report into account. There have also been chat room threats of vigilante action as a result of the Anonymous disclosures. Police now say the suspect that anonymous outed is not the guy they want, though he was questioned.[2] Anonymous have now posted material on a second suspect.[3]

Zynga game company

In October 2012 Zynga, a US-based games company which mainly does games such as Mafia Wars played on Facebook, raised the ire of Anonymous.

The hacker group says layoffs at Zynga will lead to the "end of the US game market as we know it" as jobs get shipped overseas, and it vows to take action.[4]

They have released some confidential memos about layoffs and said they will take down both Zynga and Facebook in November.[5]

Political targets

Anonymous have expanded beyond their original defend-the-net goals into politically-motivated hacktivism.

They released some of Syrian President Bashar Assad's email[19].

In February 2012, they attacked the Vatican[4]. They probably did not act alone on this; the dissatisfaction with the Church originated with South American radicals who may also have been involved in the attack. The attack was recorded and analyzed, giving some insight into Anonymous tactics. They first probed the systems for weaknesses and, finding none, then fell back to a simple denial of service attack.

In April, they attacked a large number of Chinese government sites[20] and, a bit later, some British government ones in protest over "draconian" proposals for net surveillance[21]. There are reports that additional attacks on Chinese government sites are planned[22].

Late in May, they attacked a plant research facility, apparently because they did not like the work on genetically modified wheat that was being done there.[6]

In July, they published information on web censorship in the United Arab Emirates, an analysis of what sites are blocked.[7] A bit later, they protested a new Australian law that would require ISPs to retain customer data for possible police use; they broke into a telecomm company and began releasing the stolen data. [8]

When the Philippine government passed its Cybercrime Prevention Act, which arguably threatens free speech online, a group calling themselves "Anonymous Philippines" hit a number of government sites. [9]

In November 2012, they attacked several Israeli government sites in response to Israeli attacks in Gaza.[10] Israel says nearly all the attacks failed.[11]

There has been a claim (with no evidence) that an Anonymous attack stopped Karl Rove from perpetrating a huge election fraud during the 2012 US presidential elections.[12]

In 2013, they attacked a South African Police Service site to protest police killings of striking miners. [13] This was an exceedingly controversial attack since "the identities of nearly 16,000 South Africans, who lodged a complaint with police on their website, provided tip-offs or reported crimes, are now publicly available."

Legal actions against them

Various alleged members of Anonymous or related groups such as Lulz sec have been arrested or prosecuted in several jurisdictions.

Several stories [14] report that some Anonymous members have been arrested.

Meanwhile, four in Holland have been released.

One arrested in UK [15].

Paypal gives FBI some IP addresses. [16]

More on FBI vs Anonymous. [17] A (possibly bogus) leaked document says they threaten national security.

Interpol arrests 25 suspects. [18].

FBI claim to have "dismantled the leaders" of the group. [19]


There has been considerable internal dissension and some splinter groups have formed.[23]


  1. Attacks by "Anonymous" WikiLeaks proponents not anonymous
  2. Evgeny Morozov, The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate the World
  3. "Anonymous Supporters Tricked into Installing Zeus Trojan", Symantec blog, March 2, 2011
  4. 4.0 4.1 John Markoff (Feb 27, 2012), "In Attack on Vatican Website, a Glimpse of Hackers’ Tactics", New York Times
  5. Catherine Solyom (May 12, 2012), "Insider tells why Anonymous ‘might well be the most powerful organization on Earth’", National Post
  6. Sept 21, 2009 (Julian Dibbell), "The Assclown Offensive: How to Enrage the Church of Scientology", Wired
  7. 7.0 7.1 Anonymous vs. Scientology
  8. David Kravets (Jan 26, 2010), "Guilty Plea in ‘Anonymous’ DDoS Scientology Attack", Wired
  9. Nate Anderson (Sept 30, 2010), ""Operation Payback" attacks to go on until "we stop being angry"", Ars Technica
  10. Ravi Mandalia. Anonymous Claims to have Hacked Sony PSN Again. Parity News, copyright [[{{{date}}}]].

  11. Justin Elliott (Feb 17, 2011), "Firm in WikiLeaks plot has deep ties to Feds", Salon
  12. Peter Bright (Feb 2011), "Anonymous speaks: the inside story of the HBGary hack", ars technica
  13. Stratfor Hacked, 200GB Of Emails, Credit Cards Stolen, Client List Released, Includes MF Global, Rockefeller Foundation
  14. Kim Zetter (Feb 3, 2012), "Anonymous Eavesdrops on FBI Anti-Anonymous Strategy Meeting", Wired Magazine, Threat Level blog
  15. Kevin Fogarty (Feb 13, 2012), "Anonymous took down Friday, then didn't, then did, then did it again today", IT World
  16. Tom Brewster (May 9, 2012), "Pirate Bay Unhappy With Anonymous Virgin DDoS Bomb", Tech Week Europe
  17. Emil Protalinski (May 17, 2012), "The Pirate Bay returns, Anonymous hater takes credit for DDoS", ZD Net blog
  18. 18.0 18.1 Matthew J Schwartz (Nov 30, 2011), "Anonymous Threatens Robin Hood Attacks Against Banks", Information Week
  19. Barak Ravid (Feb 7, 2012), "Bashar Assad emails leaked, tips for ABC interview revealed", Haaretz
  20. Gianluca Mezzofiore (April 3, 2012), "Anonymous China: Hundreds of Beijing's Government Websites Defaced", International Business Times
  21. Emil Protalinski (April 7, 2012), "Anonymous hacks UK government sites over 'draconian surveillance'", ZD Net
  22. Jean-Philippe Ksiazek (April 9, 2012), "‘Anonymous’ planning more attacks against Chinese government sites", National Post
  23. Paul Roberts (May 15, 2011), "Barrett Brown, Public Face of Anonymous, Leaves Group", Threatpost blog