Ever since they introduced themselves to the world, we hear about Anonymous more and more often. With a philosophy that always intends to side with the weakest, with the people attacked by the strong powers, by authoritarian governments or by multinationals, Anonymous has recently become a protagonist alongside the biggest social, economic and human battles of the moment. And now that they officially declared (cyber-)war to Russia in the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine, more and more readers are wondering when the story of Anonymous began, who they really are and what their most important hacks were. Let’s see it together.
Who are the hackers behind the Anonymous group?
Anonymous is a distributed group of hackers whose identity is unknown. The group was officially born in 2003 within the 4chan platform, a bulletin board that allows you to post anonymous messages with no need to register. Behind the Anonymous “brand” there are many of the best hackers in the world, capable of launching targeted and coordinated attacks even against government platforms equipped with important security systems. They coordinate in a generic way through the channels of the deep web, then they act simultaneously, often through the actions of individuals, or after having contacted a network of local hackers, when the attack concerns a specific nation. And from time to time they publish videos where the speaker wears the mask that became famous after V for Vendetta.
What were their most famous attacks?
- 2008 – the Chanology project and the attack on Scientology: it was one of Anonymous’s first public attacks. In January 2008, a video appeared on Youtube in which Tom Cruise vividly described the Scientology experience as a member of the congregation. Scientology made sure that the video was removed from every channel, which triggered the wrath of the Anonymous hackers. Anonymous publishes a video in which they officially declared that they will remove Scientology from the Internet, as enemies of the truth. The video is still visible on Wikipedia at this link. The video was followed by numerous attacks on local and global Scientology websites that made the portals often inactive, plus a series of black faxes sent in order to make the official headquarters run out of ink. The protests lasted for several months and also involved public demonstrations in front of Scientology headquarters.
- 2011 – Anonymous against Sony: it was perhaps the longest, most intense and most relentless attack perpetrated by Anonymous hackers. In 2011 Sony took hacker George Hotz to court, who had managed to execute memory read and write commands inside a PlayStation3. Sony would release a software update soon, that will prevent other operating systems from being installed on the console. The two things together unleashed the Anonymous group, which launched an unprecedented attack: the online platform PlayStation remained inactive for weeks, after which Sony admitted that hackers had extracted personal information of 77 million users, without excluding that even the credit card information was at risk. Sony will issue a formal apology and will have to undergo a class action as well. Fun note: while all of that was happening, George Hotz will be hired by Facebook for his own skills. A few years later he will switch to Google.
- 2010 – revenge for Wikileaks: when in 2010 Wikileaks began publishing the secret diplomatic conversations of the US government, the White House immediately took legal actions and, to protect themselves, giants such as Amazon, Paypal, Visa and Mastercard withdrew their support to Wikileaks. In response, Anonymous unleashed a general attack on those who backed down: Paypal’s official website went down twice within two days, and other companies were also attacked for banning WikiLeaks services.
- 2012 – in defense of Megaupload: in 2012 the US government shut down permanently Megaupload site, one of the main download portals for pirate music and movies. As an immediate response, Anonymous took down the FBI website, along with a handful of other music and film sites.
- 2022 – Anonymous against Putin: after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin, Anonymous responded immediately by declaring “cyber war” to Putin. Several government sites were shut down, and on February 25th, 2022, Anonymous released 200GB of secret information from the Russian Ministry of Defense, along with other private data from the Tetraedr military company supporting Russian operations. To close on a rebellious note, the hacker collective altered data from the Vesseltracker navigation tracking system to show a modified “to hell” itinerary for Putin’s personal yacht.
These are just some of the most striking actions shown by Anonymous. Over the years the collective has also sided with the people in the Arab Spring and protests in Malaysia, attacked the Ku Klux Klan and took organized action against Bank of America corruption, among other things. And everything suggests that we will still hear about them in the future. Whenever there is a symbolic battle between a strong and a weak side.