BEHIND THE MASKS

WHO OR WHAT IS ANONYMOUS?

Anonymous is a nebulous global hacking collective that states it is everyone and it is no one. Legion. A hive mind. The people involved — the “Anons” — don’t reveal their true identities. They join and leave with such frequency, and have such a range of objectives, that it’s impossible to define Anonymous at any one moment. It’s best to think of Anonymous as a series of hacking operations, such as Op Egypt, Op Payback, and Op Newblood.

HOW DO ITS OPERATIONS WORK?

Each operation has a specific goal — perhaps to undermine a dictatorship or a corporation — and is assigned a collaboration space. An Anonymous Operations chat server consists of several chat channels. Most are for specific operations, some are general, and some are completely off topic. The literal starting point for an operation is usually a manifesto or press release created by someone under the Anonymous banner, like this one:

Anyone can start an Anonymous operation, whether they are “part” of Anonymous or not. Sometimes there are no real “hackers” involved to begin with, but the promotion of an operation attracts their attention, and collaboration.

WHO IS BEHIND THE OPERATIONS?

This is where the famous Anonymous phrase “everyone and no one” comes into play. Most operations do involve some sort of hacker(s). On top of this, artists and designers play a role: If the imagery and aesthetic of an operation are impressive, people will take it seriously. Sometimes journalists and activists get involved to ensure an operation reaches peak effectiveness.

When the objectives of one operation contradicts another, the result may be an Anonymous vs Anonymous “war”. Another factor that causes in-fighting is intense paranoia. No one wants their true identity revealed. Because of this, spying is a hot topic, with accusations constantly being thrown around regarding the logging of chat conversations, snitching, and the presence of double agents.

EX-ANONYMOUS MEMBER JAKE DAVIS

My experience with Anonymous started by accident. I was playing Tetris online with a friend when she mentioned something called “Operation Payback”. Anonymous were attacking PayPal, Visa, and Mastercard for blocking payments to WikiLeaks. I entered a chat room on a server called “AnonOps” and used my real name. Quickly realizing this was a huge mistake, I changed it.

After watching, analyzing, and absorbing, I decided to chime in — about a month later. This began my involvement in operations such as Op Tunisia and Op Egypt, which were designed to support protesters on the street during the Arab Spring. I became involved in writing press releases, defacing pages of government websites, and organizing operations themselves. I became better known for these skills in the Anonymous community and began being invited into more secretive, closed-off groups. After a few of my exploits became a little too public for my liking — such as this one — I took more of a backseat.

A few months later, myself and a few others founded “LulzSec”, a group designed to mock online security as a whole. Our style was cheeky and childlike. The point was the situation was so grim that even we can wreak havoc. Hacking is not just limited to shady intelligence agencies and organized groups. This gained global media attention, hundreds of thousands of social media followers, and while an interesting part of my life, was also the most unhealthy, paranoia-inducing, and chaotic, leading to a real breakdown of my mental health as a whole. Ultimately, I was arrested for my involvement in Anonymous/LulzSec, which you can read more about in the SPYSCAPE museum.

FURTHER READING

Our favorite book on Anonymous is Gabriella Coleman’s Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous.

Who or what is Anonymous? How does its hacking operations work? Who are the people behind the now famous masks? Our Head of Hacking (and ex-Anonymous member) Jake Davis explains all.