No one really knows who Anonymous are. The hacking group have been lurking around the bottom of news articles ever since the start of the 21st century and have been tipped by CNN to be one of the three major successors of WikiLeaks, yet they still remain shrouded in secrecy.
The group’s name derives from the fact that Internet users are able to talk anonymously online, a simple thing that has proven very problematic for the authorities. Having supposedly been formed as an Internet meme from the imageboard 4chan.org, the latter half of the 2000s saw the emergence of a fully-fledged, coordinated directive. Since 2008, the self proclaimed Internet vigilantes have been associated with international ‘hacktivism’ and other forms of widely publicised protests. These are acts that have largely been committed in response to anti-digital piracy campaigns; however, Anonymous is becoming increasingly involved in coordinated attacks against governmental bodies.
The group has claimed responsibility for a series of high profile cyber attacks, including strikes against the Bank of America, Sony, the Malaysian Government and SOPA. They have taken an aggressive stance towards the Church of Scientology, after the church attempted to prevent a leaked video interview with actor Tom Cruise from going viral. In retaliation, Anonymous members restricted access to numerous Scientology websites, as well as making a series of prank calls and sending black faxes to Scientology centres. They have also been linked by the media to cyber attacks against YouTube, anti-Internet piracy organisations and numerous law firms. Anonymous’ most infamous breach of security came in July 2011, when the group was able to access hoards of restricted material from NATO’s database. However, this is nothing compared to the group’s future plans; Anonymous threaten to bring down the Internet under Operation Global Blackout, with another smaller operation of the same name aiming to shutdown Facebook’s 60,000 servers.
Unlike WikiLeaks, Anonymous seems to lack a leader or any form of controlling group. This is one of the many reasons the authorities have had difficulty tracking them, with members operating from anywhere and as anyone. Nonetheless, the decentralised group is not entirely without a face, as Anonymous members have often been seen sporting V for Vendetta-style Guy Fawkes masks in public, which represent a shared commitment to a cause with the titular character, whilst protecting the wearer’s identity. Members have used the masks in a variety of high profile protests, such as the ongoing Occupy movement, which Anonymous actively supports. Anonymous is also prominent across the Internet, through the group’s own flag which depicts a ‘suit without a head’, symbolising the organisation’s lack of leadership and anonymity. Additionally, the group has also become characterised by their ominous mantra used to combat the group’s lack of definition: “We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us”.
The group has established ties with several similar groups such as Lulzsec, as part of the larger Operation AntiSec, a movement that aims to protest against government censorship and Internet monitoring. These associated groups have only furthered the authorities’ insufficiency in tackling the organisation. In 2011, a San Francisco gardener was identified as the “leader” of Anonymous. However, when interviewed, it turned out that the man calling himself ‘Commander X’ was in fact a “peon” and was instead a founding member of an allied group, the Peoples Liberation Front (PLF), an organisation that was just a singular part of the wider umbrella of Anonymous. Furthermore, the PLF claimed to be working with another group of hackers called AnonOps, which was revealed to be yet another sub division of the larger hacking organisation. Due to the complexities of their structure, or the lack thereof, it appears that this ever-growing group of Internet activists will continue to elude the authorities, and the word Anonymous won’t be leaving the headlines anytime soon.