Anonymous (group)


A flag conveying symbolism associated with Anonymous. The imagery of the "suit without a head" represents leaderless organization and anonymity.[1]

Individuals appearing in public as Anonymous, wearing the Guy Fawkes masks popularized by the comic book and film V for Vendetta.
Formation 2003–2004
Type Internet meme;
Multiple-use name/avatar;
Virtual community;
Voluntary association
Purpose/focus Entertainment;
Internet activism;
Internet trolling;
Internet vigilantism
Region served Global
Membership Decentralized affinity group

Anonymous (used as a mass noun) is an international hacking group, spread through the Internet, initiating active civil disobedience, while attempting to maintain anonymity. Originating in 2003 on the imageboard 4chan, the term refers to the concept of many online community users simultaneously existing as an anarchic, chaotic, global brain.[2] It is also generally considered to be a blanket term for members of certain Internet subcultures, a way to refer to the actions of people in an environment where their actual identities are not known.[3]

In its early form, the concept has been adopted by a decentralized online community acting anonymously in a coordinated manner, usually toward a loosely self-agreed goal, and primarily focused on entertainment. Beginning with 2008, the Anonymous collective has become increasingly associated with collaborative, international hacktivism, undertaking protests and other actions, often with the goal of promoting internet freedom and freedom of speech. Actions credited to "Anonymous" are undertaken by unidentified individuals who apply the Anonymous label to themselves as attribution.[4]

Although not necessarily tied to a single online entity, many websites are strongly associated with Anonymous. This includes notable imageboards such as 4chan, Futaba, their associated wikis, Encyclopædia Dramatica, and a number of forums.[5] After a series of controversial, widely-publicized protests and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks by Anonymous in 2008, incidents linked to its cadre members have increased.[6] In consideration of its capabilities, Anonymous has been posited by CNN to be one of the three major successors to WikiLeaks.[7]



Origins as a concept and a meme

An anonymous figure cosplays as Anonymous. Photographed at ROFLcon on April 26, 2008

The name Anonymous itself is inspired by the perceived anonymity under which users post images and comments on the Internet. Usage of the term Anonymous in the sense of a shared identity began on imageboards. A tag of Anonymous is assigned to visitors who leave comments without identifying the originator of the posted content. Users of imageboards sometimes jokingly acted as if Anonymous were a real person. As the popularity of imageboards increased, the idea of Anonymous as a collective of unnamed individuals became an internet meme.[8]

Anonymous broadly represents the concept of any and all people as an unnamed collective. As a multiple-use name, individuals who share in the "Anonymous" moniker also adopt a shared online identity, characterized as hedonistic and uninhibited. This is intended as a satirical, conscious adoption of the online disinhibition effect.[9]

We [Anonymous] just happen to be a group of people on the internet who need — just kind of an outlet to do as we wish, that we wouldn't be able to do in regular society. ...That's more or less the point of it. Do as you wish. ... There's a common phrase: 'we are doing it for the lulz.'

—Trent Peacock. Search Engine: The face of Anonymous, February 7, 2008.[9]

Definitions tend to emphasize the fact that the concept, and by extension the collective of users, cannot be readily encompassed by a simple definition. Instead it is often defined by aphorisms describing perceived qualities.[2] One self-description is:

We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.[10]

Iconography and aesthetics

As a cyberculture, Anonymous aesthetics are based in various forms of shock humor, including genres of cringe, surreal, and black comedy.[9]

Online composition

[Anonymous is] the first Internet-based superconsciousness. Anonymous is a group, in the sense that a flock of birds is a group. How do you know they're a group? Because they're traveling in the same direction. At any given moment, more birds could join, leave, peel off in another direction entirely.

—Chris Landers. Baltimore City Paper, April 2, 2008.[2]

Anonymous consists largely of users from multiple imageboards and Internet forums. In addition, several wikis and Internet Relay Chat networks are maintained to overcome the limitations of traditional imageboards. These modes of communication are the means by which Anonymous protesters participating in Project Chanology communicate and organize upcoming protests.[11][12]

A "loose coalition of Internet denizens,"[13] the group is banded together by the Internet, through sites such as 4chan,[11][13] 711chan,[11] Encyclopædia Dramatica,[14] IRC channels,[11] and YouTube.[3] Social networking services, such as Facebook, are used for the creation of groups which reach out to people to mobilize in real-world protests.[15]

Anonymous has no leader or controlling party and relies on the collective power of its individual participants acting in such a way that the net effect benefits the group.[13] "Anyone who wants to can be Anonymous and work toward a set of goals..." a member of Anonymous explained to the Baltimore City Paper. "We have this agenda that we all agree on and we all coordinate and act, but all act independently toward it, without any want for recognition. We just want to get something that we feel is important done..."[2]


According to self-ascribed members of Anonymous, membership is conditional but easily achieved, being as simple as concealing oneself while performing online activities. Conversely, the simple act of having one's identity revealed automatically removes oneself from the group.[9] Several members or former members have been interviewed or become noted for their own participation in certain Anonymous activities. Asked about the demographics of Anonymous, Commander X indicated that the common conception of Anonymous as a youth group is a misconception. "The popular impression is....skewed. There are older people, from the direction of the Chaos Computer Club – that can if needed rein in the "kids" who appear to dominate Anon Ops."

Commander X and the Peoples' Liberation Front

Provides interviews and videos about Anonymous.[16] Says that "we are not a terrorist organisation". In 2011, he was at the center of an investigation into Anonymous by Aaron Barr, who claimed to have identified him as a San Francisco gardener. Interviewed following the attack on HBGary Federal, Commander X revealed that while Barr suspected that he was a leader of the group, he was in his own words a "peon". However, Commander X did claim to be a skilled hacker and founding member of an allied organization, the Peoples Liberation Front (PLF). According to Commander X, Peoples Liberation Front, collective of hactivists founded in 1985, acted with AnonOps, another sub-group of Anonymous, to carry out denial-of-service attacks against government websites in Tunisia, Iran, Egypt, and Bahrain. Explaining the relationship between Anonymous and the PLF, he suggested an analogy to NATO, with the PLF being a smaller sub-group that could choose to opt-in or out of a specific project. "AnonOps and the PLF are both capable of creating huge "Internet armies". The main difference is Anon Ops moves with huge force, but very slowly because of their decision making process. The PLF moves with great speed, like a scalpel."[17] On September 23rd, a homeless man in California named Christopher Doyon was arrested, under charges that he participated in online as a part of a group called "PLF", and as "Anonymous". [18] He pleaded not guilty to charges.[19]


"AnonOps," which provides communications platforms for the group. With several domain names and Twitter accounts for publicity. "From [] the beginning there has been an secret club, an aristocracy in AnonOps, deciding how operations will play out in invite-only channels."[20]

Low Orbit Ion Cannon

The Low Orbit Ion Cannon is a network stress testing application that has been used by Anonymous to accomplish its DDOS attacks. Individual users download the LOIC and voluntarily contribute their computer to a bot net. This bot net is then directed against the target by AnonOps. [21]Joining the bot net and volunteering one's resources for the use of the group is thus one way of being a "member," a concept that is otherwise hard to define.

Reception and impact

Media coverage

KTTV Fox 11 news report

KTTV Fox 11 investigative report on Anonymous.

On July 26, 2007, KTTV Fox 11 News, based in Los Angeles, California, aired a report on Anonymous, calling them a group of "hackers on steroids," "domestic terrorists," and collectively an "Internet hate machine." The report covered an attack on a Myspace user, who claimed to have had his Myspace account "hacked" into seven times by Anonymous, and plastered with images of gay pornography. The Myspace user also claimed a virus written by Anonymous hackers was sent to him and to ninety friends on his Myspace contact list, crashing thirty-two of his friends' computers. The report featured an unnamed former "hacker" who had fallen out with Anonymous and explained his view of the Anonymous culture. In addition, the report also mentioned "raids" on Habbo, a "national campaign to spoil the new Harry Potter book ending," and threats to "bomb sports stadiums."[6][22]

The day following the KTTV report, Wired News blogger and journalist Ryan Singel derided the report, stating that the "hacker group" in fact consisted of "supremely bored 15-year olds," and that the news report was "by far the funniest prank anyone on the board has ever pulled off."[23] In February 2008, an Australia-based Today Tonight broadcast included a segment of the KTTV report, preceded by the statement: "The Church of Scientology has ramped up the offensive against Anonymous, accusing the group of religious bigotry and claiming they are sick, twisted souls."[24]

Al Jazeera coverage

The English language edition of Al Jazeera published regular articles on Anonymous and its activism. The journal also ran opinion pieces on the group, sometimes laudatory, describing it as a future form of internet-based social activism:

"This is the future, whether one approves or not, and the failure on the part of governments and media alike to understand, and contend with the rapid change now afoot, ought to remind everyone concerned why it is that this movement is necessary in the first place."[25]

Search Engine subject of focus

In January 2008, Search Engine, a Canadian radio show published by CBC Radio One, began reporting on Project Chanology. Host Jesse Brown called Anonymous "clowns," citing their lack of coordination, vulgar humor, and pack mentality, and invited them to confront him in person. On February 7, two members of Anonymous appeared on the show, explaining the nature of the group and the genuine criticism they held for Scientology.[9] After Anonymous held a protest in front of Scientology compounds around the world on February 10, 2008, Brown admitted that they had "proved me wrong."[26]

The nature of the protest was unprecedented—picketers wore masks and refused to divulge names—and sparked a follow-up discussion on the show about journalistic standards for source protection, and the meaning of identity. Brown brought the issue to his own workplace, interviewing CBC's president Hubert Lacroix in reaction to a conflict between him and an anonymous critic who went by the handle "Ouimet."[9]

Reaction from law enforcement agencies

Dutch arrest

In December 2010, the Dutch police arrested a 16-year old for cyberattacks against Visa, MasterCard and PayPal in conjunction with Anonymous' DDOS attacks against companies deemed to lack support for Wikileaks.[27]

United States warrants

In January 2011, the FBI issued more than 40 search warrants in a probe against the Anonymous attacks on companies that did not explicitly support Wikileaks. The FBI did not issue any arrest warrants, but issued a statement that participating in DDOS attacks is a criminal offense with a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.[28][29]

British arrests

In January 2011, the British police arrested five boys and men between the ages of 15 and 26 with suspicion of participating in Anonymous DDOS attacks.[30]

Australian arrest

Matthew George, a Newcastle, New South Wales resident, concerned with forthcoming Australian internet filtration legislation, was arrested for his participation in Anonymous DDOS activities. George participated in Anonymous IRC discussions, and allowed his computer to be used in a denial of service attack associated with Operation Titstorm. Tracked down by authorities, he was fined $550, though he was not fully aware that his actions were illegal, and believed his participation in Operation Titstorm had been a legal form of civil protest. His experience left him disillusioned with the potential of online anonymity, warning others: "There is no way to hide on the internet, no matter how hard you cover your tracks you can get caught. You're not invincible."[31]

Spanish arrests

On June 10, 2011 the Spanish police captured three purported members of Anonymous in the cities of Gijon, Barcelona and Valencia. The operation deactivated the main server from which the three men coordinated DDoS attacks. This particular group had made attacks on the web servers of the Playstation store, BBVA, Bankia, and the websites of the governments of Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Iran, Chile, Colombia and New Zealand. The operation revealed that their structure consisted of "cells" which at any given time could coordinate attacks through the downloading of software; the decision-making process to attack occurred in chat rooms. The Spanish national police stated that this operation corresponds to the fact that the Spanish government and NATO considers this group of hackers a threat to national security.[32]

Turkey arrests

On June 13, 2011 officials in Turkey arrested 32 individuals that were allegedly involved in DDoS attacks on Turkish government websites. These members of Anonymous were captured in different cities of Turkey including Istanbul and Ankara. According to PC Magazine these individuals were arrested after they attacked these websites as a response to the Turkish government demand to ISPs to implement a system of filters that many have perceived as censorship.[33][34]

Arrests following Operation Avenge Assange

During July 19-20, as many as 20 or more arrests were made of suspected Anonymous hackers in the US, UK, and Netherlands following the 2010 Operation Avenge Assange in which the group attacked PayPal, as well as attacking MasterCard and Visa after they froze Wikileaks accounts. According to US officials statements suspects homes were raided and suspects were arrested in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Washington DC, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, and Ohio, as well as a sixteen year old boy being held by the police in south London on suspicion of breaching the Computer Misuse Act 1990, and four being held in the Netherlands.[35][36][37][38]

Timeline of events

See also


  1. ^ "Gabriella Coleman on Anonymous". Brian Lehrer Live. Vimeo. February 9, 2011. Retrieved March 24, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d Landers, Chris (April 2, 2008). "Serious Business: Anonymous Takes On Scientology (and Doesn't Afraid of Anything)". Baltimore City Paper. Retrieved July 3, 2008. 
  3. ^ a b Jessica Parral, James Clark (February 2, 2008). "Internet Group Takes Action Against Scientology". City on a Hill Press (student newspaper) (University of California, Santa Cruz). Retrieved February 21, 2008. 
  4. ^ Davies, Shaun (May 8, 2008). "The internet pranksters who started a war". ninemsn. Retrieved October 29, 2008. 
  5. ^ Cade Metz (May 14, 2008). "Google kills Anonymous AdSense account". The Register. 
  6. ^ a b Tsotsis, Alexia (February 4, 2009). "My Date with Anonymous: A Rare Interview with the Elusive Internet Troublemakers". LA Weekly. Retrieved February 7, 2009. 
  7. ^ "Anonymous vows to take leaking to the next level". CNN. February 23, 2011. Retrieved March 29, 2011. 
  8. ^ Whipple, Tom (June 20, 2008). "Scientology: the Anonymous protesters.". The Times (UK). 
  9. ^ a b c d e f Brown, Jesse (February 7, 2008). "Community Organization with Digital Tools: The face of Anonymous". MediaShift Idea Lab: Reinventing Community News for the Digital Age (PBS). Archived from the original on Feb 11, 2008. Retrieved March 3, 2008. 
  10. ^ [We Are Anonymous, We Are Legion], Yale Law and Technology, November 9, 2009
  11. ^ a b c d George-Cosh, David (January 25, 2008). "Online group declares war on Scientology". National Post (Canada: Canwest Publishing Inc.). Archived from the original on January 29, 2008. Retrieved January 25, 2008. 
  12. ^ Ryan Singel (January 23, 2008). "War Breaks Out Between Hackers and Scientology – There Can Be Only One". Wired News. Retrieved January 25, 2008. 
  13. ^ a b c James Harrison (February 12, 2008). "Scientology protesters take action around world". The State News (student newspaper) (Michigan State University). Retrieved February 25, 2008. 
  14. ^ Davies, Shaun (May 8, 2008). "Critics point finger at satirical website". National Nine News. 
  15. ^ Dahdah, Howard (February 8, 2008). "'Anonymous' group declares online war on Scientology". Computerworld: The Voice of IT Management (IDG Communications).;632197333. Retrieved February 8, 2008. 
  16. ^ by Commander X. "Anonymous on Vimeo". Retrieved 2011-08-30. 
  17. ^ Tynan, Dan (February 18, 2011). "A conversation with Commander X". IDG. 
  18. ^ Doran, Miles. "Feds: Homeless hacker 'Commander X' arrested". CBS. Retrieved 28 September 2011. 
  19. ^ Mills, Elinor. "Alleged 'Commander X' Anonymous hacker pleads not guilty". CNET. Retrieved 28 September 2011. 
  20. ^ Anderson, Nate (2011-05-09). "The hackers hacked: main Anonymous IRC servers invaded". Retrieved 2011-08-30. 
  21. ^ Rogers, Tim (2011-05-09). "Barrett Brown is Anonymous". D magazine. Retrieved 2011-04-1. 
  22. ^ Phil Shuman (investigative reporter) (July 26, 2007). "FOX 11 Investigates: 'Anonymous'". MyFOX Los Angeles (KTTV (Fox)). Archived from the original on May 22, 2008. 
  23. ^ Ryan Singel (July 27, 2007). "Investigative Report Reveals Hackers Terrorize the Internet for LULZ". Wired News. Retrieved February 23, 2008. 
  24. ^ Bryan Seymour (reporter) (February 11, 2008). "Anonymous takes Scientology war to streets" (newscast). Today Tonight (Seven Network). Retrieved February 20, 2008. 
  25. ^ "Anonymous and the global correction - opinion" (in English). Al Jazeera English. Feb. 16, 2011. Retrieved 9 October 2011. 
  26. ^ This Week's Show (Feb.14/08) CBC Radio
  27. ^ "Dutch Arrest 16-year-old Related to WikiLeaks Attacks". 2010-12-09. Retrieved 2011-08-30. 
  28. ^ Previous post Next post. "FBI Knocks Down 40 Doors in Probe of Pro-WikiLeaks Attackers". Retrieved 2011-08-30. 
  29. ^ "Search Warrants Executed in the United States as Part of Ongoing Cyber Investigation". 2011-01-27. Retrieved 2011-08-30. 
  30. ^ "UK police arrest WikiLeaks backers for cyber attacks". January 27, 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-30. 
  31. ^ Whyte, Sarah (March 14, 2011). "Meet the hacktivist who tried to take down the government". Sydney Morning Herald. 
  32. ^ "La Policía española golpea a Anonymous · ELPAÍ". Retrieved 2011-08-30. 
  33. ^ Albanesius, Chloe (2011-06-13). "Turkey Arrests 32 'Anonymous' Members | News & Opinion".,2817,2386803,00.asp. Retrieved 2011-08-30. 
  34. ^ "Detienen en Turquía a 32 presuntos miembros de 'Anonymous' - Noticias de Europa - Mundo". Eltiempo.Com. Retrieved 2011-08-30. 
  35. ^ "BBC News - Police arrest 'hackers' in US, UK, Netherlands". 2011-07-19. Retrieved 2011-08-30. 
  36. ^ Andy Greenberg (2011-07-19). "Fourteen Anonymous Hackers Arrested For "Operation Avenge Assange," LulzSec Leader Claims He's Not Affected - Forbes". Retrieved 2011-08-30. 
  37. ^ By staff writers (2011-07-20). "'Anonymous' hackers arrested in US sweep". Herald Sun. Retrieved 2011-08-30. 
  38. ^ "16 Suspected 'Anonymous' Hackers Arrested In Nationwide Sweep". 2010-04-07. Retrieved 2011-08-30. 

External links

Activist websites used by Anonymous
News coverage

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