As the town of Ferguson, Missouri awaits the Grand Jury verdict after police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed 18 year-old Michael Brown, another type of justice has been playing out online.
Like caped crusaders swooping in to restore a sense of order from potential chaos, the hacking group known as Anonymous has seized two Twitter accounts run by members of white supremacist movement Ku Klux Klan after the latter threatened Ferguson protestors with “lethal force” for their disruptive behaviour.
But this isn’t the first time Anonymous hackers have taken matters into their own hands to promote freedom and dispense their own, sometimes comical, brand of justice. Large and small organisations, even governments, have fallen at the hands of these deft hackers.
Who are Anonymous?
Anonymous is a self-governing collection of international Hacktivists – someone who uses computers to promote human liberties, information ethics and free speech – known individually as Anons.
Comprising many smaller groups of computer hackers who mostly share the collective’s outlook, Anonymous has the ability to rally hackers behind a common cause – in the above case, silencing threats of violence from a vigilante group towards innocent protestors – in an effort to restore balance to the world.
Some of the group’s methods of invading closed computing networks however, are technically illegal, earning the collective quite the infamous reputation and some Anons a term in prison.
Here are the top six most notable Anonymous Actions.
In 2008, Anonymous had a very simple message for the Church of Scientology: “For the good of your followers, for the good of mankind—for the laughs—we shall expel you from the Internet.”
What began as prank calls to the Scientology hotline and the sending of black faxes (to waste fax toner) became DDoS attacks on websites – Distributed Denial-of-Service attacks that disrupt websites by sending repeated requests to the website server, overloading it – and public protests.
These actions against the church eventually died down, but not before months of protests by Guy Fawkes mask-wearing Anons at Scientology centres across the USA.
Westboro Baptist Church
Anonymous have turned their attention a number of times to the Kansas-based un-affiliated Baptist church, usually in response to the church’s intention to picket funerals with placards reading God Hates Fags.
In 2011, Anons brought down the church’s websites during a live radio interview with church spokesperson Shirley Phelps-Roper.
“No one, no source, no power can shut these words, that are … roaring out of Mount Zion,” said Phelps-Roper, moments before being informed all of the churches websites had been taken down.
A lone hacker by the name of George Hotz drew the ire of mega entertainment corporation Sony when he published details of how to hack PlayStation 3 consoles.
After attempts by Sony to prevent the distribution of this information, Anonymous members hacked Sony databases and compromised account details of more than 100 million PlayStation Network users.
Hackers also brought down Sony’s online PlayStation network and Sony music service Music Unlimited.
Mexican Drug Cartel
“You have made a great mistake by taking one of us. Free him.”
In one of its most daring and dangerous operations to date, Latin American members of the hacking group threatened a Mexican drug cartel with exposure after the illegal narcotics organisation kidnapped Anon.
Los Zetas cartel has a history of dispensing with online troublemakers in a very permanent fashion, something that would make most hackers think twice about taking them on. Not so Anonymous.
In a tense stand-off, Anonymous released a video declaring they would release the names and addresses of police officers, taxi drivers and journalists sympathetic to cartel, unless their comrade was returned safe and sound.
The hacker was eventually released, with Anonymous announcing: “While bruised, he is alive and well.”
When members of Anonymous got word that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) had contracted an Indian software company to launch DDoS attacks on websites sharing details of copyrighted material – such as The Pirate Bay – they weren’t happy.
What followed was a series of DDoS attacks that shut down the MPAA’s website, along with the Recording Industry Association of America and the Copyright Alliance, the latter ending up with a new homepage that simply stated, ‘Payback Is A Bitch.’
By the end of the operation, websites for organisation and government departments in Europe, the USA and Australia had all been brought down. The hackers had made their message very clear: “Anonymous is tired of corporate interests controlling the internet and silencing the people’s rights to spread information, but more importantly, the right to SHARE with one another.”