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)