Hacktivist Anonymous turns online hacking into vigilantism

5:49 PM, Jun 9, 2011   |    comments
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SACRAMENTO, CA - Sometimes called a "hacktivist", Anonymous is an enigmatic global collection of people who started as pranksters and evolved into online vigilantes who insist they have no leaders.

"There is no membership. You can't join the club. You can't sign up." said Ryan Singel, staff writer for WIRED magazine. "There are just a couple of places they hang out online and if you want to say you're part of anon then you're part of anon."

IN-DEPTH: Get extended interviews and interactive timeline

The group has no political ideological beliefs or issues either, though they professed responsibility for helping Tunisia and Egypt revolutionaries gain internet access when their governments cut them off.

"We didn't cause a rebellion, we didn't start a coup, we helped." said one 19 year old female Anon. "We sent care packages that allowed them to work around the filters their government was putting on the internet."

Anonymous also claimed the service disruptions for VISA and Pay Pal when those two companies refused to process donations to WikiLeaks.

"What a lot of people didn't hear about is that a lot of us acquired home addresses of CEOs, people that run Pay Pal. We sent pizzas to their homes, black faxed them and sent ridiculous faxes saying 'we just knocked down your servers'."

Besides targeting companies for activities it doesn't support, Anonymous has also responded to companies that target it. For example Anonymous sought revenge on internet security giant HBgary Federal. The security firm, which has a sister company in Rancho Cordova, was contracted to hunt down Anon members and expose them, but the group turned on the company, hacking and releasing sensitive emails and memos.

"Thousands of emails were leaked and posted all over the internet" said a male Anon interviewed by News10. "A lot of people think Anon hacked HBgary, because they were doing corrupt things. We didn't know how corrupt they were until we read their emails."

The Anon interviewee added that some of the memos reportedly detailed plans to mislead reporters covering the WikiLeaks story. He went on to say that the group hacked CEO Aaron Barr's social media accounts, sending out offensive messages and destroying company files.

The FBI has investigated people believed to be members of Anonymous.

"I found it amusing", said our female, teenage Anon interview subject. "There is an FBI agent one morning, standing in my living room, threatening me with the full force of the US government. I'm a 19 year old girl with a keyboard".

The FBI clearly does not find Anonymous "amusing". Although the agency refused an interview with News10, they have shown a willingness to go after Anon, serving 40 search warrants in January both in the United States and the UK.

"I think what is fascinating about them is how they started as pranksters and became a vigilante group. They really now have a purpose." said Singel. "They've styled themselves after that bad movie "V for Vendetta" with the Guy Fawkes masks."

"You're going to get a lot of people saying that I'm going to go to prison," said our 19 year old female Anon interviewee. "A lot of people saying we are going to get bored and we are young and stupid, wasting our lives. The point of Anon is that you can do something. Anyone that is not taking away freedom of information or speech, or hurting innocent things...they have nothing to worry about".

By Cristina Mendonsa, cmendonsa@news10.net


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