The Anonymous Investigation: 10 Months into a Deviant Subculture on the Internet
Little in life is what it seems. Our investigation of Anonymous began in December of 2010 while they were recruiting people on Twitter for a distrubuted denial of service (ddos) attack on Mastercard and Visa. Those two companies had, at the time, blocked their customers from donating money to Wikileaks - a leak publishing organization that caters to Whistleblowers.
Various twitter accounts began popping up here and there showing a similar avatar - that of the suit with no head. As the days rolled by, this new fad began to overwhelm twitter and it was difficult to follow their chaos of tweets broadcasting things like "LOIC can be found here..." or "Our servers are over loaded so try this server instead...." and "Watch this [several accounts tweeting this] account for server information."
When we did finally get into one of the IRC servers to see what the fuss was about, it had all but died as they had "Tango Down'd" Mastercard. At the time, it seemed like a bunch of children who had snuck out of the house late at night to go vandalize some buildings. We were, however, still curious about what Anonymous actually was, so we began investigating.
We had covered the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions using our personal blog, "Voiceleaks," for a while, and decided that after investigating the surface level of Anonymous, it would be a good idea to use it in order to attract Anons since they were showing a particular interest in Tunisia, Egypt, and Wikileaks - all of which we were covering at the time. It wasn't hard to know that what these children (or so it seemed were children!) were doing more harm to society than they were good. Like any juvenile delinquent, we felt that a little exposure would certainly shut them down.
After a time of a few Anons being on board with us for Voiceleaks, it was apparent that they felt blogger was not the best medium as they spewed diatribe after diatribe at us about information technology security and more. We discussed the situation and realized that our past speculations on these individuals wanting "attention" and only that, was pretty accurate. We catered to their fame seeking and purchased a domain with hosting and told them that we were so important that Wikileaks had decided to host us. This of course, attracted even more anons - and not only that, but ones with many followers on Twitter - from 50 to 150 thousand followers to be exact. Knowing that Wikileaks wasn't actually hosting us, these Anons continued to promote themselves, sometimes using that as a selling point to other anons, just as we had done. These individuals weren't only in it for the fame, however. They were in it for the money as well. At one point, Anonymous turned on itself and began attempting to sell hacked data, however, once that failed they decided to create a site for Anon leaks. These individuals weren't only in it for the fame, however. They were in it for the money as well.
For ten months, we worked with Anonymous, observing the ways that they reacted to certain things. We calculated several deliberate events with the specific intention of gauging their reactions. These were accomplished over the course of the entire ten months. We learned Anonymous - and there are various schools of them - inside and out. Eventually, we were invited into their most serious "operational" chats and anonpads. As we went through the motions of observing Anonymous on various levels, we learned that Anonymous was much like a cult. There were times when the more prominent anons would pressure the lesser anons using blackmail in order to get them to do what they wanted. This included but was not limited to "doxing," or - exposing real identities, exposure of parents' bank account numbers, physical violence, and more.
After comparing how Anons treated themselves against how they were treating governments and corporations (they had hacked, threatened, attempted to blackmail, promised physical violence, incarceration threats) we realized that this group was in fact centered around "ego" and the fame seeking delved deeper into a more focused effort. For the past four months of our investigation, we have seen - on several occasions - Anons claim that they own the mainstream media and not only that, but with "precision."
The Anonymous environment - mainly being the internet - is the perfect spawning point for sociopaths. Sociopaths can operate freely under the guise of Anonymous and not only that, but many anons will support the sociopaths in their efforts if the sociopaths can present their behavior in such a way as to gain Anonymous more fame and limelight in the media. Sociopaths run a muck inside Anonymous, terrorizing the various entities that Anonymous itself targets as well as displaying a high level of apathy for their victims. They use justifications for their actions as a means to recruit new members - mostly those under eighteen. On many occasions, we found Anons recruiting teens using the catch-line, "They can't prosecute you as an adult so what do you have to lose?"
Anonymity online has both power and weakness. Anonymous took what once was a privilge and turned it into a demonized version of freedom. Many Anons know exactly what will happen in the future with regard to legislation due to their efforts of molesting the privilage of being Anonymous on the internet - and they have displayed on multiple accounts, an attitude that reflects anti social behavior and sociopathic thought processes. It is their claim over the course of these ten months (and increasing as the months went by) that they own the internet and will not be stopped by any authority. We witnessed at times, a begging of innocent people on places like youtube and other social networks, for Anonymous to stop and think about what they were doing - and Anonymous's response was much like the classic abusive response, "We're doing it for your own good and for your safety."
There are layers upon layers of deception happening within Anonymous as well as layer upon layer of deception that Anonymous is exposing the public to. They guise themselves under various idioms such as "freedom lovers" or "free speech activists," yet their actions do not parallel their claims. One moment they are about protecting countries from censorship and promoting censorship free world, while at the same time they deface and hack a government website. After being called on this hypocrisy - those making the objections were readily threatened and discredited intentionally by Anonymous.
Anonymous purports to be simply an "idea," and is definitely not a group, however, those claims are again, not paralleled by behavior that supports those claims. Our ten months of investigating Anonymous has shown that they are in fact a group that is very centralized according to each of their schools and then again by those with the most followers on Twitter as being the apex of the Anonymous Triangle. (See below)
The Anonymous Triangle of Hierarchy
The Anonymous Triangle of Hierarchy was developed by Rares Anderson (myself) after observing Anonymous over the course of ten months with Lupae Phaedrus. We discovered that Anonymous has requirements in order to function as it has over the course of our investigation - or as they called it, "the golden year of Anonymous." The most fundamental requirement of Anonymous is "reach." Reach is their readership and how far they can advertise themselves and what they are doing as well as how many people they can use in order to push their advertising on social networks such as Twitter. Reach is noted as the Apex of the pyramid where you will find those Anonymous accounts with over 30 thousand followers.
Below the apex of the pyramid you will see three more categories that fall under the apex hierarchy of power and influence. On the right, there are the the activists, protesters, and individuals within Anonymous who choose to do most of their work out in the physical world, although they may participate online as well - just not as much.
In the center, you will see the hackers (hactivists), script kiddies, security firms, and developers. These individuals are more along the lines of Ryan Cleary, Topiary, Mercedes, and others that have been arrested for cyber crimes.
On the left, you will see the risk takers who don't have the courage to actually "hack" or engage in ddos attacks. Instead you will find them spread across the internet in their various factions of platoons. These individuals have a strong sense of how to troll, and most have been doing it for a very long time. They will be the ones that absolutely refuse to admit that they've done anything illegal, will boast about their not doing anything illegal, yet support illegal activity via other mediums.
While enduring this investigation, we realized that Anonymous has actually formed a few schools of which they claim are the "think tanks," of Anonymous. Currently, those groups are scrambling to rename themselves and remove any traces of Anonymous from their own causes. One of these groups - not as slick as some - can be seen ruminating and raging on the #presstorm hashtag - and have been for several days. They call themselves "The Cabin Crew," which is an interesting thing all in itself due to the fact that the members of that crew make up what was once Presstorm before Lupae and I exposed the investigation to elicit reaction.
No matter the scheme that Anonymous has come forth with - they have always brought with them their arrogance. It was that same arrogance that allowed us to do what we did: infiltrate anonymous without touching step on the world of hacking talent. It is noteworthy to ponder whether or not Anonymous in all their talent and skill at the keyboard, have the ability to critically think through a situation. We asked ourselves this multiple times during our investigation as we saw many groups of Anonymous essentially commiting suicide after they'd boasted about genius stroke scandals such as the "lulzsec saga." We discussed the fact that Anonymous as a whole was displaying support for various sociological and psychological theories - including that of Stanton Samenow in his "Criminal Thinking Tactics," which can be found in his book: The Criminal Mind.
The high levels of hypocrisy were the highlighting points upon which we realized that this group was truly apathetic and capable of doing very dangerous things. Better yet, we wondered if such a group would prove to be a catalyst for even more Government corruption in the future with a type of blackop/cointel strategy for something or other. After all, anyone can be Anonymous. All they need is an internet connection.
Anytime we engage in investigative reporting, we try to be as fair as possible. We try to show both good and bad, however, this is a special case. This is a case that involves misplaced compassion, misplaced loyalty, and misplaced trust. Any "good" coming from this investigation is that people are receiving the chance to examine their own motives, their own decisions, and their own aspirations. We sincerely hope that we accomplished multiple levels of soul seeking, critical thought, and moral objection to one's own behavior in the process.
During the course of events of the past ten months, we've seen a radically different perspective come from the public and more specifically, the youth with regard to the internet. There are a multitude of issues arising due to events being entertained online and we have felt the need to write a book about our investigation in that the public can be more aware of how groups like Anonymous can actually help or hurt society - or become a weapon of mass destruction. In the book, we will detail some of the conversations entertained in our Presstorm IRC chat as well as Anonops and other places to give our audience a broader view of the reality (outside of the mainstream media) through the eyes of Anonymous itself. We strongly believe it is in the public's best interests to be privy to this information in that they can instruct their own youth in the various local communities about the possible ramifications of becoming involved in a venture like Anonymous in the future.
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