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From Tunisia and Egypt to Wisconsin: Anonymous Hacker Group Helps Take Down Insupportable Websites
Kris Notaro   Mar 9, 2011   Ethical Technology  

Hacker group Anonymous takes down websites across the world for the greater good: peace, freedom of information and solidarity.

This article was coauthored with Wes Strong

Anonymous, which began as a movement in 2003 on a series of Internet chat boards, has gone from targeting small time hypocrites to large multinational corporations bringing it from the background of hacker culture to the forefront of global politics.

Anonymous is considered a “hacktivist” movement that became globally recognized in 2010 after shutting down Mastercard, Visa, and Paypal during what they called Operation Payback. These major corporations stopped providing their services to Wikileaks, which had been using them to accept donations into the Wikileaks defense fund. This action on the part of Visa, Mastercard and PayPal offended the Anonymous community as an affront to freedom and justice. Anonymous stated on Al Jazeera that they could have taken down the infrastructure of all three websites but didn’t because they wanted people to still be able to use them. Anonymous stands for “freedom of speech, freedom of information and freedom of information taken to a logical extreme” (1)

During the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Anonymous took down the government websites and continue to this day to help both movements. In Egypt, Tunsian hackers helped take down government websites because of the censorship which Mubarak’s regime was notoriously known for. “[Anonymous] takes down security barriers of Web sites so that people can enter and occupy the site and post their message to the Egyptian government,”... “So they know this Web site is ours now, and they can’t block freedom of expression.” reported Anonymous is showing us that the powerful media, from large corporations to government owned websites are all vulnerable to the will of the people for peace and justice. (2)(3)(4)

Since their explosion onto the scene, Anonymous has continued to play a significant role, albeit largely though morale increasing actions, in the day to day affairs of global politics. Recently, they shut down the website of Americans for Prosperity, the political PAC funded by the infamous Koch Brothers in support of striking workers in Wisconsin during what they called Operation KochBlock (yes, pronounced the dirty way).(5)

During a guest spot on the February 24th broadcast of the David Packman show, an internationally syndicated show, a member of Anonymous comically took down the website of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC - after the other guest, WBC member Shirley Phelps-Roper stated that Anonymous could not stop them because God was protecting them. This occurred after WBC claimed to have received a threat from Anonymous, something that was not substantiated by any section of the community. This site still remains down.

Of greatest importance was the recent raid on the servers of HBGary, a net security contractor that operates and serves the federal government. HBGary claimed to have an inside to the leadership of Anonymous, and publicly stated that they could take down the organization. The community responded by unceremoniously raiding the company’s mail server via an old phishing trick, downloading over endless amounts of data and releasing fifty thousand emails between employees and executives of HBGary, other businesses, military contractors, and state officials.(6)(7)(8) The fallout of this raid is still coming down as the CEO has already resigned and a push to prosecute the company continues to gain momentum.(9)

Anonymous continues many operations in various locations all at the behest of members who are willing to take action on each particular operation. A simple visit to the main news website for Anonymous reveals a plethora of different operations that are not publicized, swimming in an ocean of hundreds of press releases.(9) These operations often use comedic names such as Titstorm, the aforementioned Kochblock, Sockmonkey, and others. Some operations take a more serious tone such as those mentioned above, but all are done with a slight taste of humor.

Though reading several press releases clearly shows the diversity of discussion regarding the community’s future, it is clear that they all want to continue it’s existence. Some members regard the community’s recent actions as too political, citing the original motives were to hack for the lulz (laughs) or merely the sake of it, without any particular set of political goals, other than promoting free access to information.

Though the media would have you think otherwise, Anonymous is not really a centralized organization. It does not have a clear and public leadership by any means, and exists almost completely as a free and open community online. There are some staffers that run and maintain the sites, but the goals of the community are determined directly by the community itself - and on their own volition.(10) This community exemplifies political expression in the era of ever evolving technology, and demonstrates the power that is ours to have if we have the ambition to grasp it. Anonymous clearly demonstrates how fighting for freedom of speech is at the core of all struggles for social justice - as the first thing governments destroy is our right to share our thoughts and ideas in open discussion.

Operating on a series of different websites, the Anonymous network is nearly impossible to stop, much less slow down. Anonymous operates as a sort of hive mind, but not a unified one. There are some clear camps inside the community, but it operates almost completely on a horizontal playing field, without hierarchical structures that dictate or even decide goals of the community. The attacks anonymous have carried out rely on having large numbers of people involved in the operation in order to work, further limiting the possibilities of certain hacktivists from falling into defacto leadership roles. While some of the bigger operations require greater expertise, most of the daily operations conducted by Anonymous are based on the size of the community involved.

The technological infrastructure built by this community says a great deal about the power everyday people can wield if they decide to reach for it in a collective fashion. It demonstrates the evolution of thought regarding the construction of human community, now filtered by digital interactions.

Anonymous takes the mysteries behind groups like Wikileaks to the next step, breaking with any concept of formal hierarchy, avoiding the attacks perpetrated against Julian Assange. But, the group is not invincible. In a few cases, for instance in Operation Payback, arrests were made that were allegedly connected to these operations. While Wikileaks and Assange have been able to mobilize an effective support campaign, similar efforts have yet to be realized in cases related to Anonymous. If the hacktivists can remain anonymous, however, it is likely that the snowball will continue to roll downhill and continue to expand its impact on political, social, and technological culture.

To any kid who grew up and nerdily obsessing over the coolest new “3d game”, who spent hours upon hours learning code by writing it, or have seen the cult movie Hackers far to many times - and still use the references in daily discussion - this moment in history is a dream.

Anarchists who value freedom of information and group order, Socialists who yearn for decentralization, and Libertarians who praise Syndicalism should welcome Anonymous with open arms. Trans and post humanists who see a brighter future through the use of technology are witnessing the evolution of people/mind power to bring peace and justice to a world in which capitalism and greed have ruined. We are seeing the use of technology for the greater good as predicted by a number of rogue futurists right now before our eyes.

Wes Strong graduated with honors in 2008 from Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, CT with a BA in Sociology, and is a recipient of the C. Wright Mills Award. Wes was a student activist with the Progressive Student Alliance, where he ran the anti-sweatshop campaign and organized for anti-war marches and events.  Since graduating, his work has been primarily focused on student/labor issues, anti-war, and public education defense. Wes is a writer and editor for the periodic blog New Student Left Review (, which publishes reports and analyses on politics and news. New Student Left Review, online since 2009, also publishes papers and produces videos for use in political organizing.

(5)The third richest family in the US, finianciers of the Tea Party “movement”
(10) Clear Description of the community:

Kris Notaro served as Managing Director of the IEET from 2012 to 2015. He is currently an IEET Rights of the Person Program Director. He earned his BS in Philosophy from Charter Oak State College in Connecticut. He is currently the Bertrand Russell Society’s Vice-President for Website Technology. He has worked with the Bertrand Russell A/V Project at Central Connecticut State University, producing multimedia materials related to philosophy and ethics for classroom use. His major passions are in the technological advances in the areas of neuroscience, consciousness, brain, and mind.

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It’s far too simplistic to say that capitalism and greed have ruined the world. Greed is in many ways a fundamental human attribute, and although the word itself tends to be used negatively, the basic motivation (let’s call it “desire” to be more neutral) has fairly obvious positive aspects. Capitalism is a concept for how to organise society that has played a crucial role in creating the prosperity and freedoms that at least some of us currently enjoy.

I also don’t think we should be taking “freedom of speech, freedom of information and freedom of expression [sic] to a logical extreme”. Steve Colbert has a point when he laughs at the irony of a group named “Anonymous” pursuing freedom-of-information goals.

On balance I think the group probably plays a positive role, and there’s a lot in this (very informative) article that I agree with, but I think we need to be a bit more careful in our assessment.

I support Anon with all my heart and mind.
Unfortunately, I do not possess the computer skills to contribute to any of their projects, so the most I can do is to talk about and educate people in whatever circles (forums) I associate with.
But I also have Assange’s “insurance file” on my computer, waiting for the key to unlock it.

Excellent article.

All these things that have been going on are the infrastructure for an egalitarian society based on transparency taking shape.

thanks and congratulations to you on reporting such wonderful, optimistic news.  Do they have any future plans?  Can they get rid of Robert Mugabe?  Please keep us informed.

This article has a lot of mistakes in it. The authors are pretty careless. Not going to go through all of them, but if you want an ACCURATE account of what actually was going on and who did what to whom, and when, go to and look at Nate’s articles or go to Forbes and look at Parmy Olsen.  By the way, I’ll bet neither author saw the IRC chat between Anons and Penny Leavy, CEO of HBGary, the firm which held a 15% stake in HBGary Federal, which was the entity that claimed to have the identities of Anon leadership. That conversation shows a side of Anon which definitely challenges the “hacktivist” label.

Great article. The movement started before when Libertarians literally pulled the plug of the Communist computer system, saving the nascent Russian legislature. The LIO ( is a rally banner for several activist supporter teams that also help people organize.

Anonymous is the first internet-based superconsciousness

As iPan, I also support Anon with all my heart and mind. And I agree with Kris, we should welcome Anonymous with open arms.

One of the most interesting aspects of Anonymous is its decentralization and absence of leaders and hierarchy. When you do something to support Anonymous, even just talking about it and education people, you ARE Anonymous.

@Peter - I would say that there is greed and greed. Of course everyone wishes to improve their condition, and this is good. Earning 20k or 200k a year makes a huge difference, but earning 20M or 200M a year does not: there is nothing that one can do with 200M/y that cannot also be done with 20M/y. I think wanting money for improving one’s own life is desire, and good, but accumulating money and power for their own sake is greed.

there is a distinct difference between desire and greed.
Greed is desire carried to the extreme.
Greed is the willingness to do anything it takes to get what one wants.

Greed is not good. Greed does not work.

this is by far the best I read in months. thanks!

Well done my good man, well done.

Great article Kris and Wes - thanks

very informative and accurate! I too have no hacking skills but am an avid supporter of anonymous via twitter and facebook.

Anonymous didn’t take down wbc, they just defaced part of the website during that interview. As for taking the site down, I believe if you google “the jester”, you might find an answer 😊

This article provides what I think is the most accurate take on Anon I have yet read. Of course how would I know, they are after all anonymous!lol 😊

@Giulio+me: “Greed is desire taken to the extreme.” OK let’s go with that definition. But then I have two questions: (i) have “greed and capitalism” ruined the world, or is reality about more complicated than that? (ii) are we saying it is fundamentally immoral to try to amass wealth above 20m/year? Or does it depend how one does it, and what one does with it once one has amassed it?

I’m also a bit suspicious of all this “Anonymous is the first internet-based consciousness” (but I’ll visit the site Giulio). Am I the only one that sees a contradiction between having a goal of “freedom of information taken to a logical extreme” and engaging in activities that are by their nature stealthy? As they say in French: “il y a quelque chose qui cloche”.

Very well said Chris.

iPan, everyone can contribute. Fax campaigns, translating, research, many many ways. For example, some spent time during OpIran testing fax-able persan fonts for the protest/medical advice docs going out to make sure it made the trip.

Do stop by, channel #opnewblood and have a chat.

You are more capable than you realise.
You are Anonymous.

From Wikipedia:

“No Cussing Club
In January 2009 members of Anonymous targeted California teen McKay Hatch who runs the No Cussing Club, a website against profanity. As Hatch’s home address, phone number, and other personal information were leaked on-line, his family has received a lot of hate mail, lots of obscene phone calls, and even bogus pizza and pornography deliveries.

YouTube porn day
On May 20, 2009, members of Anonymous uploaded numerous pornographic videos onto YouTube. Many of these videos were disguised as children’s videos or family friendly videos with tags such as “Jonas brothers.” YouTube has since removed all videos uploaded. The BBC contacted one of the uploaders who stated that it was a “4chan raid” organized due to the removal of music videos from YouTube. BBC News reported that one victim posted a comment saying: “I’m 12 years old and what is this?” which went on to become an internet meme.”

Are we still enthusiastic?

“Are we still enthusiastic?”

The first example you give, of McKay Hatch, I find borderline unacceptable.

But let’s break down the shared responsibility.

The people who are responsible for: “his family has received a lot of hate mail, lots of obscene phone calls, and even bogus pizza and pornography deliveries.”

are responsible for their own actions. I’m not one who advocates collective punishment. In other words, although I find it kind of mean of Anon members to do that, I would never hold them directly responsible for the hate mail, porn, pizza deliveries, etc. Actually, I find the pizza deliveries and porn to be pretty funny, but not the hate mail or phone calls.

The second example, I think is absolutely brilliant. No one was harmed by that at all.

Keep in mind, that Anon is not really an organization. Some of their members may do some questionable things, and it would be cool when they do, if other Anon people used the same skills they use against institutions to expose those people as well.

The short version: You cannot hold the actions of a few Anon members as the standard for all of them, because they are not a collective institution in the traditional sense.

Endorsing some of what Anon does, is not an automatic endorsement of everything that Anon, or people claiming to be Anon, do.

However, I do think it would be cool if Anon also targeted their own when they stepped out of line. Not because they need internal policing, but because it would be good PR. It would show impartiality. Apply the same tactics to everyone.

All good points iPan. I agree that the porn thing is less obviously objectionable (at least to me - it really depends on one’s values) than the hate mail and phone calls. I think many of my friends and colleagues who are parents would disagree though.

As I said in my first comment (and this has not really changed after looking at the Wikipedia entry), my impression is also that on balance this “non-organisation” is playing a positive role these days. Perhaps some of their members have grown up a bit? I also noticed in the Wikipedia entry that some members don’t like the fact that some of the more recent actions are political, whereas I have the impression that this is partly what attracts participants in this blog. My guess is the movement will fission at some point: perhaps we will see a “Really Anonymous” meme developing (or perhaps something more imaginative…).

“My guess is the movement will fission at some point: perhaps we will see a “Really Anonymous” meme developing (or perhaps something more imaginative…).”

Yeah, I was thinking last night after I wrote that, that maybe each Anon operation should be labeled something like Oper"A”-Anon, Oper"B”-Anon (where “A” and “B” are variables that would be the name of the actual operation).

Because each operation may be run by completely different individuals, and there is even disagreement within Anon.

So, we treat each operation as if it’s a completely new and separate manifestation of Anon, responsible only for it’s direct actions, and not the actions of any previous operation, or any future operation.

Actually iPan it does sort of function like that already. In order to have an operation, it needs a support chan on the irc server to coordinate anonymous members and resources. If the op is not sanctioned by the body of anonymous, then the chan isn’t registered and no resources are given.

Most operations do have some overlap of members but not all. A small effective group can be as good as a large diverse and gregarious group, depending on the intent. OpIran and OpLibya have had hundreds of members, OpIvoryCoast currently has about 12.

While we are on the IEET site, there is curiousity as to what IEET readers think of DDOS as a form of protest, and the use of client nation’s fax machines to spread non-regime information and aid - if there is interest.

To be honest, the DDOS attacks come pretty close to violating the non-aggression principle.

The two positive things I see Anon doing are:

1) Exposing the corrupt and criminal. For example, releasing the HBGary emails.
In this capacity, Anon is merely the messenger. The people will do the rest.
Investigations can be forced when crimes can no longer be hidden.
All the “masses” need is incontrovertible proof of wrong doing, and then they usually do the rest.

2) Aiding people to overcome censorship and internet shutdown. For example, when people in Egypt or Libya had their internet access cut off, or people in China who don’t have access to unapproved sites, helping them to connect and gain access to the internet through social media.

I find that Anon seems to function best as an “arms supplier” in the information war. Help people to gain access, and they tend to do the hard part of actually overthrowing their oppressors.

Be an enabler. It’s enough.

And keep stealing emails and secret information from corporations and governments and posting it for the public.
Expose the bastards.

Hmmm…I was just in the process of agreeing with everything in iPan’s reply when I got to the bit about exposing the “bastards” in corporations and governments. I work in government (although I’m commenting here in a purely personal capacity), and we are not all “bastards”. It’s not that I’m taking offense, but I think it’s important to avoid a “business is bad” or a “government is bad” ethic developing. By all means expose *bad behaviour* by corporations and governments, but for the time being we pretty much need both. In fact, one of the functions of government is precisely to regulate the behaviour of corporations, e.g. through anti-trust policies and environmental standards.

“I work in government (although I’m commenting here in a purely personal capacity), and we are not all “bastards”.”

Let me be more specific: Expose the Hegemons.
I usually take it for granted that people will assume I’m not talking about street level employees.

Of course, if you’re a CIA spook, or work for DHS, then I might have a different opinion, but I don’t think any of the low-level “minions” should be harmed in any way, they are after all, mere puppets.

So, the “bastards” I’m referring to are the heads and CEO’s of Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, the Federal Reserve and IRS, the World Bank, the Inernational Monetary Fund, etc.

@Peter re “we are not all “bastards”

Of course. I have also worked in government for many years, and I remember a lot of very good people, frustrated because they could not do the good things which had motivated them to work in government. Often it is shut up and just warm up your chair, or leave.

One of the functions of government should be precisely to regulate the behaviour of corporations, but these days I feel that governments and corporations are working together to keep their power and money, and oppress the little people. Sorry to be so blunt, but this is how I feel.

@iPan’s…By “minions” did you mean employees of CIA and/or DHS, or government employees lore generally. I certainly try, not to be a “minion”, and I sometimes get into trouble for it. But I’ll agree with you on one thing: there’s a lot of greed out there (in the negative sense that we discussed above), and personally I have a lot of sympathy with those who try to expose it.

@Giulio…I don’t disagree: policy capture by special interests is a real (and very well researched) problem. I just think we need to avoid getting so carried away by our (n many ways justified) enthusiasm for grass-roots movements (which is what Anonymous is at the end of the day, albeit a highly tech-savvy one) that we neglect the need for sound governance, order, security and business, or assume that anyone who draws attention to such needs is working for the dark side.

I don’t know how IEET feels about updates, but just to inform everyone, more Anonymous news:

“Hacker group to release BofA e-mails Monday”

What I was trying to convey about the DDOS attacks, is that it’s kind of a tough one to figure out. I feel differently depending on the specific attack.

The attacks on Mastercard, Paypal, and Visa made me smile. But I don’t know that it really accomplished anything, except perhaps increasing morale. I mean, it was probably I minor irritant to the companies.
And, it might have inconvenienced people (customers) who are not implicit in the crimes of that company.
I mean, it’s not like it did a lot of damage, but at the same time, did it accomplish any good?

By contrast, these leaks will force lawmakers to take action, force CEO’s to resign, force companies out of business.
Look at what happened to HBGary. CEO resigned. That’s results.

And helping people work around government imposed internet blackouts: aids the protesters.

These are all highly positive things, while the DDOS attacks are kind of - meh. Yeah, I did get a kick out of it, but where does it actually get us?

And that’s why I stress the importance of simply exposing these crimes through leaks. When that’s done, people take action. Someone will get fired, maybe prosecuted, maybe impeached. The world actually changes for the better.

So, I say keep leaking and exposing the corruption. It’s the best thing Anon can do.

And keep the public connected via social media.

(btw, I’m excited for tomorrow 😊

“The problem today, especially in the United States (and Russia and China?), is that instead of government serving as a legitimate check on business, it is functioning as a facilitator for business, with no one left to look out for the workers, the citizens, and the environment.”

Yes, Russia and China, too. Large nations influence small nations and vice versa. Negative reinforcement at the nation-state level.

@iPan..No argument with that at all, I have very similar feelings both about DDoS (mixed) and exposing corruption. One further comment, though: I’m not convinced that we can yet do without armies, spies, and a degree of government secrecy.

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