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EWFA Epilogue

Tenshi Hinanawi edited this page Feb 18, 2012 · 1 revision

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“Keep your money we do it for the lulz.”

IN THE WEEKS since I finished writing this book, Anonymous has become a household name. The media still doesn’t quite know what to make of it, and straight society is trying to figure out what it’s all about. Are these individuals really a bunch of leaderless teenage geniuses? A cabal of trained anti-American terrorists? Do they represent the future of civil disobedience, or are we experiencing a brief burst of web-based pranksterism that will come to an end as soon as the rest of the Internet is able to adapt to their methods?

On June 12, the group attacked the websites of the Spanish Police in solidarity with three people who’d been arrested for their involvement with Anonymous (authorities have also arrested Anons in Britain, Australia, Spain and Turkey over the last few weeks). Three days later Anonymous attacked ninety-one Malaysian government sites in retaliation to their web censorship. The following week, Anon brought down several local government websites in Florida in response to the arrests of several members of a nonprofit who’d been feeding homeless people against Orlando city ordinance. Meanwhile, Anonymous dug up contact info for 2,500 employees of biotech giant Monsanto due to the company’s business practices that, according to Anonymous, are marked by environmental unfriendliness.

The latest attack was widely reported on July 11. Anonymous leaked 90,000 emails taken from the servers of military intelligence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. These sensitive documents contained correspondence between the company and members of various military branches, the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, and others. Anonymous laid out their charges against Booz Allen Hamilton in a press release:

Anonymous has been investigating them for some time, and has uncovered all sorts of other shady practices by the company, including potentially illegal surveillance systems, corruption between company and government officials, warrantless wiretapping, and several other questionable surveillance projects.

Furthermore, Anonymous has fractured into conflicting subgroups. The most important splinter group claims no affiliation with Anonymous: Lulz Security, or LulzSec, has snottily targeted several major corporations, claiming ownership of attacks and pranks on Fox, PBS, Sony, the CIA, and the FBI. Their motto: “The world’s leaders in high-quality entertainment at your expense.”

Throughout May and June of 2011, LulzSec alerted the public to a new high-profile hack every few days via the LulzSec Twitter account, which has amassed over 283,000 followers as of this writing. Rather than operating within the vast, anarchic Anonymous, LulzSec carved out a niche—a small cadre of hilarious trolls who all clearly know their stuff. They didn’t recruit, but their ideology was similarly populist in nature. The group initially distanced themselves from the Anons, but banded with them during Operation Anti-Security, or AntiSec, an ongoing effort marked by vague anti-government sentiment. LulzSec released a maritime-themed press release calling all “lulz lizards” to action:

We encourage any vessel, large or small, to open fire on any government or agency that crosses their path. We fully endorse the flaunting of the word “AntiSec” on any government website defacement or physical graffiti art . . . To increase efforts, we are now teaming up with the Anonymous collective and all affiliated battleships . . . Top priority is to steal and leak any classified government information, including email spools and documentation . . . If they try to censor our progress, we will obliterate the censor with cannonfire anointed with lizard blood.

In early June, cybersecurity firm Black & Berg issued a challenge, “Change this website’s homepage picture and win $10K and a position working with Senior Cybersecurity Advisor, Joe Black.” LulzSec hacked into the site, emblazoning the homepage image with their mascot, a monocled, wine-swilling stick figure, and to add insult to injury wrote “DONE, THAT WAS EASY. KEEP YOUR MONEY WE DO IT FOR THE LULZ” across the page. It wasn’t even close to being LulzSec’s biggest attack, but it so perfectly crystallized their mentality and exemplified their ethos of trolling for trolling’s sake, with any political outcome perceived as a pleasant side benefit.

Rival factions with names like Team Poison, The A-Team, Web Ninjas, and a guy calling himself th3 j35t3r (leetspeak for “the jester”) leaked the usernames of LulzSec’s core members. After fifty days of mayhem, LulzSec abruptly called it quits, though it’s likely many of the group’s major players will continue to act under the banner of Anonymous or rebrand completely. Large organizations are likely scrambling to improve security measures, but they can only do so much to out-think a sprawling mass of devious computer geeks with anarchic inclinations. It’s likely that Anonymous will exist for a long time, in one form or another, as long as there are a few people ready to exploit the missteps of the powerful, the corrupt, and the laughable.

Throughout my account of this curiously influential site, I traced the motivations that drive Anonymous, from the freedom-fighting proclivities of early hackers to the group’s paradoxical obsessions with the revolting and the adorable. Closely linked with the rise of Anonymous is the story of “little-A anonymous,” a phraseterm I’ve used to describe the broader movement of anonymous social interaction and content creation. There’s no question that Anonymous has outgrown 4chan. Few pieces of media coverage even mention the site from which Anonymous spawned anymore. But I’m confident that when their hacktivism ceases to be a novelty, future historians will look back and recognize that the story of little-A anonymous is just as meaningful.

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