Hacktivist vigilante collective


One of the most high-profile hacktivist collectives in the world, Anonymous has demonstrated a real ability to influence opinion.
Anonymous Overview ‧ read
What can we say for sure about a “hacking” group that is deliberately nameless, faceless, and shapeless? Not a whole lot. But Anonymous isn’t just a hacking group devoted to carrying out DDoS attacks against websites it dislikes. It’s also an ideological movement. After all, everyone is welcome: “anyone can join Anonymous simply by claiming affiliation.”

In recent years, the group has gained considerable influence in the media. When Anonymous announces plans to target particular organizations, such as ISIS or the Ku Klux Klan, mainstream news and websites give it plenty of coverage. Anonymous is just as good at publicity stunts as it is at attacking websites and hacking social media accounts.

However anonymous the hacktivist collective claims to be, Anonymous’s story—including the names of some its key members—is well documented. Here’s our biography of Anonymous.

It began on... 4Chan?

Anonymous involves itself in serious issues, so it’s odd to think that Anonymous was first “organized” on an internet message board known for its tasteless subject matter and juvenile jokes: the one and only 4chan.

On 4chan, users don’t need to create a username. They can simply post as “anonymous.” 4chan is used by a wide variety of people from all over the world. It’s not just a place where teenagers post anime and nude photos; it’s also a popular hacker hangout.

In 2004, a group of 4chan “/b/” forum users began to refer to “Anonymous” as an independent entity. There was no formal structure, membership, mission, or anything like that. Many people identifying as “Anons” thought of themselves as crusaders for justice. And even though many 4chan users were in it for “the lulz” (i.e., for fun; a corruption of “LOL”), Anonymous evolved into something else.

Project Chanology: The start of Anonymous activism

With 4chan as its base, Anonymous started to organize online raids against things it found unjust or simply cringeworthy. Groups of Anons would hunt down cat abusers or just play pranks. Anonymous started the famous Rickroll on 4chan.

As the group’s skills and organization grew, so did the size of its targets. In 2008, Anonymous started Project Chanology, an anti-Scientology campaign. The motivation behind this campaign? The Church of Scientology had tried to suppress an embarrassing YouTube video featuring their most famous Scientologist, Tom Cruise. And Anonymous did not like this.

Anonymous launched Project Chanology with a YouTube video of its own. The video got millions of views, and Project Chanology spilled out into the real world. Thousands of people protested on the streets outside Scientology offices in the USA and the UK wearing the Guy Fawkes masks for which the collective has become known. Anonymous also launched DDoS attacks that disabled the Church of Scientology's website, resulting in even more media coverage for the hacktivist collective. Anonymous had made its biggest impact yet.

The targets get bigger

The success of Project Chanology led to many more Anonymous campaigns in the following years.

In 2010, Operation Payback attacked PayPal, Visa, and Mastercard because the companies started to block payments to WikiLeaks. In response, Operation Payback brought down PayPal’s website on December 8 and 9, 2010. Thirteen members of Anonymous were arrested over the incident. All of them pleaded guilty in a U.S. court.

In January 2011, Operation Tunisia supported Arab Spring movements by helping Tunisians protect their browsers from government surveillance. Anonymous also crashed Tunisian government websites with DDoS attacks.

In 2012, Anonymous undertook Operation Anti-Bully to target Hunter Moore, owner of the revenge-porn website The site, now closed, posted pictures of men and women without their permission, together with links to their social media accounts. Anonymous took revenge by publishing personal information about Moore, including his home address and the names of his family members.

Anonymous off-shoots: LulzSec, GhostSec, and more

Throughout all of these operations, Anonymous remained a loose organization. It had thousands of members but no formal structure. Its members had a diverse set of interests and motivations: some were out for justice, some were in it for the lulz. So it’s not surprising that factions formed within Anonymous, some of which gained notoriety in their own right.

In 2011, a group of Anons formed Lulz Security (aka LulzSec). LulzSec carried out attacks on major organizations including Sony, News Corp, and the CIA. LulzSec’s motivation wasn’t justice but entertainment. LulzSec’s Twitter bio reads: “The world's leaders in high-quality entertainment at your expense.” The group’s key members pled guilty to numerous attacks when they were caught in 2013.

In 2015, another Anonymous affiliate, GhostSec, hacked an ISIS site on the dark web. In typical juvenile fashion, the group replaced the site’s homepage with ads for viagra and a message to “enhance your calm.”

What next for Anonymous?

Anonymous keeps growing in size, influence, and notoriety. But the group remains hard to define... and hard to judge. Anonymous has carried out online attacks and campaigns that defend free speech and helped innocent people in peril. But it has also carried out seemingly random attacks just for “the lulz.”

That all kind of makes sense when you remember Anonymous is an identity that almost anybody can adopt. Its members are often split into small groups, with no single leader telling them what to do.

One thing we can say for sure is that Anonymous has real power to influence opinion and force change. How it uses that power in the coming years, we’ll have to wait and see.