Why the world fears Anonymous: Joe Menn in the FT

(photo: Demonstrators wearing "Anynomous" masks protest in Madrid. REUTERS.)

Joseph Menn has a must-read analysis piece in the Financial Times today, mercifully freed from the paywall, about why the world fears so-called "hacktivists" like Anonymous. Everyone with a computer connected to the internet should read this piece.

To admirers, the hacktivism trend reflects the increased importance of technology in more and more aspects of life. The net is now democratising both legitimate political expression and hacking in the same way it once democratised media, allowing anyone to blog or publish an electronic book.

But others, including the companies that have lost business due to web outages or been robbed of customer information by hacktivists, believe Anonymous sets a dangerous precedent. “Motivation-wise, I think these guys are on a massive power trip. There is definitely some criminal element,” says Karim Hijazi, founder of tech security start-up Unveillance, which had its internal e-mails published by hackers with Lulz Security (commonly known as LulzSec), an Anonymous offshoot.

Even some supporters worry that if the group continues on its current path, it could trigger a legislative backlash that would bring heightened monitoring at the expense of the privacy that Anonymous prizes.

Steven Chabinsky, FBI deputy assistant director, says the bureau is placing “a lot of emphasis and focus on Anonymous and other groups that would be like them. These organisations have managed to use new technologies to connect to otherwise disenfranchised hackers to gather force and momentum in a way we have not seen before.” Since July, the FBI’s most useful ally has been Scotland Yard and its beefed-up e-Crime unit, which says it has arrested three of the four founders of LulzSec.

Read: "They’re watching. And they can bring you down." (FT)


  1. That these sort of events will ultimately lead to governments restricting internet access, monitoring everything you do and so on is absolutely my fear. There are already politicians who want to restrict the internet, and they can now simply point to these hacks and whatnot as legitimate reasons why such laws and restrictions need to be implemented. What’s worse is that the average person will believe them and support them, voluntarily giving up their own freedom.

    There won’t be many lulz when Big Brother is monitoring everything you do online.

    1. But it’s a flawed argument. The people who would pass laws restricting anonymity need an excuse (if even that much). There’s nothing saying it has to be this. Claiming that hacktivism could be the cause of crackdowns is like saying that terrorism caused the Patriot Act.

    2. There are already politicians who want to restrict the internet, and they can now simply point to these hacks and whatnot as legitimate reasons why such laws and restrictions need to be implemented.

      Aw, that’s cute.  You think they needed legit reasons in the first place to attack our freedoms.

    3. your case for cranking up the restrictive measures and monitoring everything etc is for the average person a ‘who cares i don’t do anything illegal’ attatude because the people who are wanting to be anonymous will find away to be so, and the hackers are hackers who will continue to hack.

      It reminds me of every game that gets released where by they say its crack proof yet within a few hours of the game being release, or sometimes before, its on the internet cracked open.

      Even now, we havea once ‘secure’ systems, such as WEP, that has been cracked wide open by the hackers. For these types of people who want anonymity, there is always going to be a way to bypass any control system.

      If the FBI, or any other government body thinks otherwise, then they’ve just made the job of the hackers that one step easier.

    4. But really, they’ve been trying monitor everything and restrict access well before any kind of hactivism ever showed up.  The Patriot Act was laughed out of congress for a very long time before it was hysterically passed; as an example of how far back the trend goes.  

  2. Well, this part is just silly:

    “At a psychological level, firing away at corporate or government
    websites echoes a shift in media habits that is rewiring people who grew
    up with the internet, the so-called digital natives. Global revenue
    from gaming has overtaken movies as active participation replaces
    passive consumption of video.

    Like many other hacktivists, Gonlag was an avid player of “first-person shooter” games, the protagonist in his own adventures. Digitally attacking MasterCard and Visa elevated that engagement to the real world, a literal dream come true.”

  3. That’s the fewth time I’ve seen those referred to as “Anonymous masks.”  I think that’s giving way too much credit to that group.  Those are Guy Fawkes masks.

    1. “Those are Guy Fawkes masks”

      Those were Guy Fawkes masks. Corrected.

      Like many things in life, as time moves on images, works and language adapts as the prominent take over.

      A good example of the use of now homosexual word “gay”, once a joyful expressive word is now often used to describe homosexual men in a slanderous remark.

      And if you’re looking for more of a symbol, then take the swastika as defiant example. For many its now embeded in history as a symbol of the nazi regime, yet looking back the symbol has been used for years and years proir to that found in china, india, even egypt.

      Please don’t travel around in life blinded by what society dictates, a lot of what anonymous fight for are to help protect the values of what you yourself just protested to.

      1. I’m pretty sure the Nazis had a little more oomph behind their re-appropriation of the swastika.  Guy Fawkes is a widely recognized and current cultural icon, and for the time being, these are photographs of protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks.  If Anonymous took to dressing as fat men with white beards and red pointy hats in December, they’d still be wearing Santa suits.

    2. That’s the fewth time I’ve seen those referred to as “Anonymous masks.”  I think that’s giving way too much credit to that group.  Those are Guy Fawkes masks. 

      I just think it’s kind of funny that Time Warner gets a cut every time someone buys one of those things to dress up for an anti-establishment protest. I guess the maker movement hasn’t penetrated Anonymous yet.

      1. I think it’s even funnier that Guy Fawkes wanted a more restrictive society, rather than a more permissive or honest one.

  4. We already have worms that send spam. They prove that the concept is effective.

    What about worms acting as tor exit nodes? Suddenly the network would become significantly faster and much more difficult to watch over.

    That should somewhat alleviate the problem of anonymization of communication and make taking away of freedoms a bit more difficult.

  5. Governments and established media outlets dislike it when anarchy works and leads to good things. That shouldn’t be news, and neither should their demonizations. That an organization should see attacks on itself as negative regardless of whether or not it benefits others both inside and outside of itself is also not news.

  6. ” “Motivation-wise, I think these guys are on a massive power trip.”

    Yes, such a power trip, reminding those in charge that their own shady dealings won’t be tolerated is  such an unreasonable ego boost.

  7. Anything i have to say here would sound cliche and overused. Mostly because I want a reaffirmation that what the chans, and other groups is pretty much the only way left at lashing out at a system that seems apathetic to our cries of DO NOT WANT.

    There are people working on internet-alternitives. Be it revisiting ye olden BBS era. Creating soundmodems to be used with whatever aradio equipment is on hand, pirateboxing, sneakernets…

    To: Corporations, Politicians, and those that care not for the non-rich/powerful.

    You can’t stop the noise. When will you realize it and embrace this as a part of your lives? When you work for goals you had claimed to work for when you came into power we all profit. You get to stay in charge because the people genuinely like what you’re doing, and we get a better life. Why is this too hard to do? Why must it be Gimmegimme gimme and when someone tries pointing out how selfish it is they’re either silenced, ignored, or painted with a FUD brush.

  8. And to think the security folk at scotland yard and the FBI have problems already tracking people, just wait until we’re mostly using IPv6. Ohhh the joys we’re going to have when they multicast over IPv6 for DDOS and hacking from address spaces that each IPv6 has is around the same as the entire address space IPv4 currently has….

  9. With a few exceptions, anonymous’s activities are basically blowback from years of the older generations not only completely ignoring and not understanding the needs of the youth, but actively oppressing their freedoms — importantly, it is NOT blowback of the terrorist kind, it is blowback similar to the CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE kind. Those oppressors in power, now, would do well to harken back to their own youth in the 60s and 70s when they, too, practiced civil disobedience against their seniors.

    1. when they, too, practiced civil disobedience against their seniors.

      But did they? I can honestly say that I’ve met tons of aged hippies, and I can’t think of one case of someone “growing up into the status quo”. Although again that’s my experience. I doubt if many of the people in power now were out in the streets protesting Vietnam, aside from some noteable exceptions. Status breeds status, and there hasn’t been much upwards-mobility to counteract that fact.

      1. But did they? I can honestly say that I’ve met tons of aged hippies, and I can’t think of one case of someone “growing up into the status quo”.

        Almost every hippy grew up into the status quo. You meet them all the time — it’s just you can’t recognize them, ’cause they look normal now, owing to the fact that they’re the status quo.

        Steve Jobs, for example….

      2. ” I doubt if many of the people in power now were out in the streets protesting Vietnam, aside from some noteable exceptions.”
        Well, that might be so in the US, where you need a lot of money to back you up into power. But in my country (Finland), if you look at pictures from protests and civil disobedience from the 70’s, you will see _a lot_ of familiar faces of today’s older generation of politicians.

  10. The “world” does not fear hactivism.
    The “world” does not fear Anonymous.
    The Corporations fear these activists.
    The Government fears these activists.
    The 1% fear them and the freedoms they are acting to defend.

    To the rest of the world they are our generation’s last best hope.

  11. About the “fear” Anonymous inspires, I think the FBI is in for a very nasty surprise.   Their DDOS activities have become so run of the mill, so dog-bites-man, that the next jury faced with being asked to throw the book at a 16 year old participant, well, it is not going to play ball.

    Get used to it, Feds: the big bad hacked boogieman is dead. Find real criminals to nail. If I have to serve on a jury against one of these kiddies, the charges better fit the crime, or it’s jury nullification time.

  12. When someone mugs me, I don’t really care why they’re doing it.  Anonymous mugged me, and a million other people.  I hope they get caught. 

    The Feds can’t stop hacking any more than they can stop mugging.  That doesn’t mean they should let people get away with either.

    That’s the problem with people these days.  They think that if they have a noble or just cause, that everyone else should just see how noble they are and stand aside.  They think that they have the right to enact their vigilantism unobstructed.  They think their victims do not have the right to protect themselves. 

    To Anonymous, I’d say this: you can do good things in this world, but sometimes that comes with a cost.  If something is really worth doing, it’s worth going to jail over.

    1. Except “Anonymous” didn’t mug you because “Anonymous” isn’t cohesive. Anonymous today is a different person from the Anonymous who mugged you, and who knows? Maybe tomorrow it will be the same anonymous who mugged you. I’m not trying to be cute and acting like there’s plausible deniability for an entity. I’m saying the entity itself isn’t corporeal enough to pin down.

      People no longer have a system that looks to resolve inequities justly. People have burned the very cities they lived in to the ground just for the chance to start over. I think these sorts of attacks will only increase as people become less and less invested in the systems we all respect because we are invested in them or those other systems that preserve them.

      All of this is to say that nobility and morality are important, but have absolutely nothing to do with why this is going to happen again and again.

      1. Read your post twice and you’re right.  Anonymous can change.  However, Anonymous prides itself on being a faceless aggregate.  Maybe the Anonymous of today wouldn’t bully a 13-year-old girl to tears online for the world to see… but the Anonymous of yesterday did.  I’m not going to give them a free pass just because they “might” be different today.

        As if they need my approval.

    2. There’s only ever a mass movement to break the law (such as Anonymous, or Wikileaks, or the Arab Spring) when the law has long stopped serving the people it was meant to protect.

      1. That’s true, but I don’t really see how it changes things.  Even if the law can’t claim the moral high ground, they still have the power to imprison you.

  13.  Anonymous needs to stick to targets that are disliked by the populace. Stick to Scientology until it’s gone. Then move on to the Moonies and WBC.

    I understand many Anonymous play video games. Do not get too ambitious. Learn from video games. Fight low level mooks and minor bosses like Scientology to gain skills and power-ups before taking on major targets. You may still attack Syria just for the lulz. No attack on Syria will get you prosecuted. Attack the first set of mooks, Scientology, until they are gone. Go for Moonies next. Others, like the Foo Fighters and motorcycle clubs, are already fighting WBC, They can wait. Do not overreach. Fight only those your strength can defeat and make yourselves stronger.

    This is an official message from an ally of Anonymous.

  14. “… been robbed of customer information by hacktivists”

    I don’t want companies to store my financial information. I don’t want to register.  I don’t want to sign up.  I don’t want to create a username and password unless I can do it anonymously.

  15. “Motivation-wise, I think these guys are on a massive power trip. There is definitely some criminal element,”
    hmm, sounds like politicians and corporations in general to me. Or more broadly society in general. Some power trippers, some criminals, most somewhere in the middle. 

  16. A little History lesson Scratcheee.  Guido (Guy) Fawkes was part of a conspiracy to destroy the Houses of Parliament.  He was a catholic, and at the time, most catholics were as reviled as black people living in the southern US states were up until they got the vote.  Every year in the UK we have a November 5th celebration, Guy Fawkes Night, which celebrates the murdering of catholics seeking equal opportunities.  I suspect, to this day, no catholic can become monarch of this country.

    The image on the mask was appropriated by the writer Alan Moore (in V for Vendetta) as a symbol of resistance against an oppressive regime, much the way the catholics conspired against the english govt. One of the messages of the story is that ‘one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist’.

    So we get to Anonymous.  The voice of the/some people who will not abide by the status quo.  All power to them.  If this year has shown anything, it has shown that groups of unhappy or disenchanted people can make a difference, even on a global scale.  People will protest using the means they have at their disposal, telephones, print, the interwebs and sometimes their own physical presence at demonstrations where, potentially, they may die.  

    Civil disobedience is part of human nature, as is rebellion against oppression.  Push down too hard on the people, eventually they push back.  And not just on the ‘webz.

    1. Thanks Brent.  That’s a pretty interesting explanation for why those protesters are wearing Guy Fawkes masks.

    2. Every year in the UK we have a November 5th celebration, Guy Fawkes Night, which celebrates the murdering of catholics seeking equal opportunities

      I can’t imagine why the British didn’t want any more Catholic monarchs.  Mary I was such a stellar queen.

      Under the Heresy Acts, numerous Protestants were executed in the Marian Persecutions. Many rich Protestants, including John Foxe, chose exile, and around 800 left the country. The first executions occurred over a period of five days in early February 1555: John Rogers on 4 February, Laurence Saunders on 8 February, and Rowland Taylor and John Hooper on 9 February. The imprisoned Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer was forced to watch Bishops Ridley and Latimer being burned at the stake. Cranmer recanted, repudiated Protestant theology, and rejoined the Catholic faith. Under the normal process of the law, he should have been absolved as a repentant. Mary, however, refused to reprieve him. On the day of his burning, he dramatically withdrew his recantation. All told 283 were executed, most by burning.


  17. I think the rhetoric surrounding anonymous is rather ironic. All the conspiricy theories abound, the fact there is a planning cell, and that the cell’s true motives are hidden (i.e Not Transparent) from the lower levels speaks to a hypocritical tension within the online mob.

    I think as a practical matter that the law hasn’t caught up with their unscrupulous behavior, but it should only be a matter of time.

  18. Sure a hacker groups can cause damage…but if it wasn’t Anonymous, someone would still be doing this stuff…the media just wouldn’t report it.

    I think the real issue with Anonymous is the public supports it. Go on huffington post, read an article about a recent Anon crack and read the reactions in the comments. Most of them are positive towards anonymous.

    Revolutions need leaders. Anonymous has potential.

    1. Hmmm…perhaps support for Anonymous is concentrated among the types of people who leave comments on blogs?  That does not equal “the public.”  Just sayin’, even though you might be right anyway.

  19. This is a classical Robin Hood plot. The government (Prince John + Sheriff from Nottingham) are screwing up the restrictions on everyone while the outlaws aid the common people, attacking only the organisations subduing them. Thusly, the people recognize Robin Hood as the good guy and Prince John + Sheriff as bad guys.

    Anonymous hasn’t done anything that’s currently bad for the common people, while Internet restrictions are being discussed or already implemented world-wide. I take it that at least the US government and most of the european governments are stupid, thoughtless and/or greedy enough to go with the same basic plot.

  20. Hacktivists only can hack companies with weak security or companies they don’t like, if they are your heroes, I guess they hacked a company you hated, congratulations. So how come the companies’ customers have to suffer? Why don’t these hacktivist release company secrets instead of customer data?

    If the end result is safer customer data, then these hactivist are doing us all a favor, but obviously not in the way they intended, if I hated Sony, I’ll just not buy Sony, I don’t need some jackoffs releasing my personal data (I’m not actually a PS3 user).

    Companies can hire security experts, train their employees on the importance of online security, buy software, whatever, then go back to being total jerks, Anon isn’t changing anything except causing companies to improve their security, which is totally awesome for end users. What did Anon gain anyway, I guess they are famous.

  21. Boing Boing has gone all serif on us. Does this mean that you will heretofore consider yourselves establishment journalists?

    I like the simplicity of the redesign but the new font doesn’t suit you one bit.

Comments are closed.