Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A View Towards Hacktivists

Hacktivists love them or hate them, have recently become much more active in the public. Mostly rallying behind the group known as “Anonymous”, these hackers use their expertise in an effort to expose to cover-ups and lies of different organizations. According to their own manifesto, they seek to bring about a “peaceful revolution, a revolution of ideas and cooperation”. Their targets recently have included MasterCard, Visa, PayPal, and HBGary Security. I highlight these attacks in particular since they reveal a change in the Anonymous thinking, and possibly reveal how they will change in the future.

4chan is commonly portrayed as being the same group as Anonymous, but such a representation is slightly off. It would be inaccurate to suggest that 4chan has not influenced Anonymous, but it would be even more inaccurate to suggest that Anonymous and 4chan are synonymous in their ideals and methods. 4chan is the popular online image board that millions of visitors go to each day, creating an online community that talks about everything. Popular topics include /a/ (anime), /w/ (wallpapers), /s/ (sexy beautiful women), and area that has come to define 4chan in the media, /b/ (random). According to its founder, Christopher Poole, 4chan is meant to be a place where users can anonymously create content without the fear of public failure. It would be wrong to claim that 4chan is an innocent or even legal place at all times, but at heart they are a group of people who are looking for a laugh, and even follow their own moral codes. However, whenever they commit to an attack, it is often not for moral or even logical reasons. Unlike Anonymous, 4chan does everything out spur of the moment decisions, doing whatever it thinks is funniest at the moment without any regard to the consequences.

Anonymous is a much more advanced group found within 4chan. Composed of hackers of various age groups and backgrounds, they are an extremely secretive, leaderless, and now active group. For a long time, Anonymous was a term used to describe the active portion of 4chan, but there has been a recent shift in their ideology. Instead of doing things just “for the lolz”, they have now choose their attacks in a much more organized manner. Being leaderless does have its problems, with smaller groups within Anonymous attempting something that does not represent the decision of the group as a whole. However, these groups are rarely part of Anonymous for a long period of time, and are just using the name to gain notoriety for their attacks. The main groups however know each other online through various communities, and through that, are able to plan their attacks.

The most publicized attack came as a response to HBGary. HBGary claimed that they had infiltrated Anonymous at the request of the FBI and had the names of all its inner members. Anonymous later came out with a statement, reasserting that it is a leaderless organization, and that if HBGary continued this harassment, they would retaliate. HBGary continued to assert that it had found information that it deemed accurate, and continued to showcase this as a success of their firm. In response, Anonymous gained access to all the emails from HBGary and proceeded to publish them online. Most startling were the tactics revealed in the emails, detailing that it was a common practice to mislead consumers into believing certain attacks were occurring, attacking their own systems to show how well it was defending against “hackers”, going so far as to provide fake data to prove a point. After this highly publicized failure in the online security communities, HBGary has now withdrawn all its statements and its CEO has resigned.

Now the question becomes, is Anonymous doing the right thing? It is clear that what they are doing is illegal, using various cracking methods in order to gain access to servers and information they should not have. However, if someone didn’t make that sacrifice, would such information be public? They are an organization that hides behind the Anonymous mask of the internet in order to carry out what they see as the “greater good”. The arguments against them are completely valid, and many of their members are ready to for the punishments that will go their way should they true identity ever be revealed. Anonymous carries a certain amount of class amongst the online communities, being an ethical hacker that none strongly dislike. None of them will say that what they are doing is perfectly legal, but rather, it is a necessary evil.

They will use what skills they have in order to promote their goal, the freedom of speech regardless of the content. During an interview, a representative of Anonymous takes time to remind the world that they are not on a particular side of any debate, but rather, they only believe that there must be the freedom to express what everything that one believes in. They even go to quote Voltaire at the end of their “Letter to the World”, “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it.” At heart this is the sole function of Anonymous, giving everyone the right to share their story so that an informed decision can be made.

Personally, I am quite envious of the people who are able to populate Anonymous and help coordinate their attacks. They are a group of people who have a skill that they could easily misuse for their own purposes, infiltrating banks instead of people who are deceivers. But instead, they use their “powers” for the greater good, looking for places where people are being silenced so that their voices may be heard. They are the Robin Hood of the internet now, and though I am probably too afraid to publicly support them, I can express my gratitude online, behind a similar mask that we all share.

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