Anonymous is a vigilante group of geographically-dispersed hackers known for attacking Mexican drug cartels, child pornography sites, and most recently, the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD). Nazi-leaks.net is the manifestation of “Operation Blitzkrieg,” Anonymous’s most recent campaign which targets neo-nazi and other far-right sites based in Germany. On nazi-leaks.net, the group published an unverified list of alleged donors to the NPD including personal emails, customer lists, and contact information. In a call-to-arms, Anonymous posted: “We hereby call to you to identify sites where the nazis gather… collect the data and co-ordinate attacks.” Possibly due to the high volume of traffic, nazi-leaks.de is currently inoperable.
The breadth of Anonymous’s attacks since 2010 indicates a disassociation with standard corporations, governments, or any other official policing bodies. Traditionally, the group’s hack of choice is the distributed denial of service attack (DDoS), which forces websites to shut down for a finite period of time, embarrassing the organization and, in some cases, causing loss of revenue. However, In this most recent campaign and several others, they list names as a way of outing supposed perpetrators.
Admired for their blind willingness to take down injustice in whatever form it comes, the hackers behind Anonymous are also criticized for their aggressive disregard for legal procedure and the relevant authorities. In December, Anonymous targeted the US government for the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) with “Operation Blackout,” rallying US citizens to oppose the legislation, on the backs of heavyweights like Google, Facebook, and Twitter. Earlier in the year, the group effectively shut down government websites during the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. They’ve launched attacks on institutions as diverse as the Church of Scientology, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America.
In 2010, along with their hacker brothers-in-arms LulzSec, the group effectively brought Sony to its knees for allegedly unfair treatment of a fellow hacker. They also disabled and disrupted Paypal, Visa, and Mastercard for limiting the ability of Wikileaks to receive donations. While Anonymous existed long before WikiLeaks, the two rebel groups share a similar bias to effect government change through radical cyberterrorism. “Operation Blackout” was also in response to the National Defense Authorization Act, which threatened to give the US military power to arrest, detain, interrogate, and assassinate US citizens with impunity.
In a society marred by corruption and incompetence, Anonymous heralds itself as the panacea. They’re expert, fearless, and game-changing. Yet, they have no command structure and no spokesperson. In all cases, they’re downright threatening. In a post regarding SOPA, they retaliated: “To the American Congress: If you pass this bill, you will pay for it.” Presented through dramatic viral videos using synthesized speech, their arguments emerged from behind a V for Vendetta mask. As their hero, they list Guy Fawkes, the rebel who tried to bring down the English Parliament in 1605. Like wikileaks, Anonymous aims to correct all “acts of oppression” that governments oversee or are otherwise too impotent to solve.
As hacker attacks continue to diversify, international governments and the public will have to consult a similar question: To what extent is online freedom worth fighting for? Are the Anonymous intentions and methods noble or misguided? Would you put yourself at risk? As the name implies, maybe you already are.