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Anonymous is the moniker used by a loose collective of hackers and ne'er-do-wells associated with the imageboard 4chan, Encyclopædia Dramatica, and various other forums since 2003. While generally anarchic, Anonymous has collaborated in several high-profile acts of digital protest and vigilantism; this came to a head in the national media during the international controversy surrounding WikiLeaks' release of US State Department secret cables, though since 2008, Anonymous had been engaged in a guerrilla campaign against organizations like the Church of Scientology.
"Anonymous" is not a defined group of people, but rather a name used by any "hacktivist" if they believe their goals align with the loosely defined interests of Anonymous. Thus, contrary to some descriptions of it as a hive mind or a child of cyberspace, Anonymous is not much different from other examples of leaderless resistance in the past, or flash mobs in the present.
Many members of Anonymous believe conspiracy theories; like the Illuminati ones (or just enjoy trolling people with them), they like to show it to us in their videos. By the very nature of the collective, and unlike Occupy Wall Street, it is difficult to know whether they're just trolling people, seriously condoning nonsense, or both at the same time.
The most common use of "hacking" by Anonymous is in fact a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack; an attack of this nature is the real world equivalent of having a group of people loiter in front of a door preventing anyone from entering (Which ironically enough they would end up doing literally in their Habbo Hotel raids). This is not actual hacking as much as it is having hundreds of people click to refresh a website which, in turn, overloads the website's servers — more times than not this attack does nothing. Their other primary method of attack is to gather and distribute personal information on targets to spur mass-harassment via threatening phone calls, fake pizza deliveries, black faxes, swatting, etc. Such tactics give Anonymous the image of being vandals and make it really easy for the general public to dismiss what they say.
One of their more recent "operations" came in the form of the "Million Mask March". Held on November 5, 2013 to coincide with Guy Fawkes' Night, it was held in over 400 cities and was heavily touted by Anonymous supporters as a global revolution and awakening. In practice the protests (which numbered more in the dozens and hundreds for the most part) seemed to cover at once everything and nothing; it pretty much amounted to what Anonymous does online… which didn't exactly translate well into face-to-face interaction. The prevalence of cranks, conspiracy theorists and PR coverage courtesy of such paragons of independent media like RT add further to the whole spectacle being more hot air than anything. Another "operation" by some Anonymous groups, known as the "Worldwide Wave of Action" (April 4, 2014) shaped up to be essentially more of the same but with fewer people and less media, presenting itself as a continuation of OWS with a kitchen-sink of utopianism and crankery.
In other words, their major method of operation is to do something that seems really "horrifying," but in reality is pretty much a waste of everyone's time.
There are a plethora of YouTube videos with titles like ANONYMOUS REVEALS NEW WORLD ORDER (Insert current year), which, quite frankly, is blatantly a pathetic attempt at adding credibility. All you really need to do is buy a Guy Fawkes mask, and you pretty much look like an anonymous member.
If we wanted to assign a particular moral spectrum to the organization, it would have to be a blue and orange one. Their spawning point, and usually the place they'll spend most of their time is the /b/ (random) board on 4chan, which says a lot about who you're dealing with. And yet, while they'll gleefully DDoS and hack sites and organizations just for lulz, they do sometimes take on some things most people would consider good.
Their usual methods of operation include:
- DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service), essentially flooding a computer or site with outside connections and making it to where no one can reach it (think of it like a bunch of copy-paste robots lengthening the lines at the DMV exponentially). 90% of their "hacks" involve this for the most part, and almost none of the DDoSers do it without programs such as "Low-Orbit Ion Cannon," making their "hacker organization" little more than a bunch of script kiddies thinking they're "1337 h4xx0r5."
- Doxxing, releasing personal information about a person or persons, allowing people to order pizza and porn in their name.
- Black Faxing, in which they just send faxes with nothing more than black characters filling up the page, both to waste paper and ink, and to jam up the fax machine for days.
- Actual hacking. Don't get us wrong, they rarely do this (and even then, it's usually their "senior" members, such as LulzSec back when it still operated), but these occasionally turn up. They tracked people who bought child porn on The Silk Road by messing with their Tor clients to bug a certain IP, they used SQL injection among other things to take over HBGary's databases, and they have brute-forced their way into numerous DAESH social media accounts (in addition to the times they took over the WBC and KKK's accounts).
Some of their more well-known activities include:
- Project Chanology, their ongoing protests against the Church of Scientology
- Occupy Wall Street, an event they had a heavy hand in publicizing and carrying out
- Habbo Hotel raids, one of their earliest "raids," where they sat in front of the virtual hotel's pool to trap people in, and formed swastika formations. This was before they had really formed a separate identity from 4chan, mind (it wasn't until Project Chanology that the two began to diverge).
- A feud with Westboro Baptist Church, resulting in one of the lulziest moments in the history of the "church," where Shirley Phelps-Roper proclaimed on the air that there was nothing they could do to silence the "words of God", followed immediately by all of Westboro Baptists' sites all being taken offline for several days. This feud was renewed in the wake of the Sandy Hook and Boston Marathon attacks.
- In 2008, circumstantial evidence pointed to Anonymous attacking an Epilepsy Foundation discussion board with intent to cause seizures by flashing gifs.
- The 2011 HBGary raid (though this was mainly performed by LulzSec, a subgroup of "senior" Anon members with actual hacking skills).
- The 2011 Operation Darknet, resulting in the takedown of a large child pornography site, and the arrests of hundreds of purchasers of said porn.
- The 2011 PlayStation Network outage, which they denied for a while, before finally taking credit in the wake of the 2014 PSN outage perpetrated by Lizard_Squad.
- Operation Payback, a retaliatory attack on credit-card companies that refused to service accounts belonging to Wikileaks.
- Operation Ferguson, in which Ferguson, Missouri Police Chief Jon Belmar was doxxed.
- The Steubenville rape case, in which they doxxed the football players responsible as well as several police officers they believed to have covered up the scandal.
- The 2014-15 hacking of the Ku Klux Klan America twitter feed, resulting in the doxxing of several members of the organization's senior staff.
- In 2016, Anonymous participated in attacks against Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
- Fox11 'investigates' Anonymous, doing it wrong!
- Rick Mercer Report on Anonymous
- See the Wikipedia article on Timeline of events associated with Anonymous. — a more complete timeline
- Or not. Since Anonymous is now sensationalist news fodder, invoking their name is an easy lightning rod.
- From one of the handful of legitimate media outlets that actually bothered to cover it.
- Especially when the biggest protest, set in London, looked like this.
- xkcd explains it perfectly: "CIA". http://xkcd.com/932/.
- Google search of videos with "anonymous illuminati message"
- Net users insist 'racist' sign is joke by Roger Croteau (07/17/2008 12:57 CDT) Express-News (archived copy, August 24, 2008).
- Anonymous Hacks The Westboro Baptist Church: Posts All Their Personal Information Inquisitr.com. 2012-12-16.
- Hackers Assault Epilepsy Patients via Computer by Kevin Poulsen (03.28.08) Wired.
- Anonymous speaks: the inside story of the HBGary hack: After interviews with the hackers from Anonymous who invaded HBGary Federal … by Peter Bright (2/15/2011, 6:00 PM) ars Technica.
- Hacker group Anonymous publishes internet addresses of 190 paedophiles in hi-tech 'sting' (08:10 EST, 3 November 2011) Daily Mail.
- Anonymous goes after Sony, makes it personal… very personal: Not content simply to flood Sony's websites this week, some members of …" by Nate Anderson (4/7/2011, 12:17 PM) ars Technica.