This post is about Anonymous, an internet meme which has turned into a protest group, and in my opinion, a civilian 4GW tool.
Anonymous emerged from a range of sources, the primary one being 4Chan, the internet messageboard where users can post pictures anonymously. All posts are marked with the username as anonymous, and it was only a matter of time until users began to talk about anonymous as an entity seperate from the users themselves.
Over time the group began to evolve, moving beyond its roots and becoming a full fledged entity in its own right, supported by a variety of sources. Identifying when Anonymous became an organisation is hard, since although co-ordinated activity had been organised through 4chan and other places, it had not yet reached the critical mass which it now has.
Anonymous was, to me at least, born through an organised global protest against Scientology. In 2008 Tom Cruise did an interview about Scientology in which he seemed, to put it mildly, batshit mental. This video was supposed to be private and leaked, so the Church had it removed from Youtube. The internet was not amused by this, and Anonymous decided to go to war with Scientology, calling it Project Chanology.
Members of Anonymous prepared this message to Scientology. The most public face of this was a series of organised protests, which were held simultaneously in around 90 cities in 2008. Followed by a second round later the same year.
That was the public froth. The fun part.
Throughout 2008 members of Anonymous launched what can only be described as a concerted cyber conflict against the Church of Scientology. They shut down websites, and are alleged to have stolen information about the internal workings of the organisation.
Anonymous has organised a variety of other attacks, some for the puposes of mischief, others with more serious intentions. The latest is an organised and ongoing assault on the various legal, lobbying and corporate organisations who are trying to find ways of shutting down illegal filesharing. Called Operation Payback. You can read a bit about Payback and the tools which are avaliable to get involved here. For legal reasons, I'd like to say you'd be a very naughty person if you followed the clearly laid out instructions on that site and went ahead and supported the campaign. You naughty person.
Targets have included the RIAA, MPAA, The British Phonographic Organisation,The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft and Stichting Bescherming Rechten Entertainment Industrie Nederland. They've also gone after law companies which organise campaigns against copyright infringers and suspected illegal filesharers. Primarily they've shut down websites using organised DDoS attacks. However they've recently achieved something of a coup.
ACS law, to put it simply, sues people who download the content of their clients, who, for the record, are mostly pornographers. So beware if you've recently downloaded Weapons of Mass Satisfaction. Hackers operating as part of Anonymous managed to get the entire email archive from ACS and put it up online. There's a great writeup of this on Ars Technica.
This is all by way of background. In my view Anonymous has now reached the point it can reasonably be said to be a fully operational, fully civilian, 4GW organisation, operating primarily online, but increasingly able to exert its influence in the 'real world'.
You as an individual can get involved with Anonymous, download the tools which allow you to become part of organised attacks on websites and support the operations of more senior members. You'll never know another member, you can't sell out your collaborators, you can only take part or not take part. The organisation forms a wholly volunteer army.
There are different levels within the organisation. More senior members clearly have access to methods of communication which the more mainstream members dont. Darknets and constantly shifting IRC channels allow for secure communciations.
The talent base which comprises Anonymous is huge and growing. Individual members can undertake activity as they see fit and are not expected to do anything but provide support as they see fit to a generalised goal. This allows for the less talented members to do very basic things, like helping with DDoS attacks on websites, whilst the more talented can use the confusion in order to do things like... steal 5 years worth of emails and publish them online.
Now, if I was to tell you about an organisation in day to day life with a compartmentalised structure, attacking infrastructure and pursuing a political goal you'd be able to name specific examples. Terrorist groups, Mexican drug lords and about a dozen others. Anonymous deserves to be on this list, and the only reason it isnt, is because what it does is hard to make tangible. Its also unlikely to get into the papers because frankly, its not sexy.
The one thing which Anonymous (appears to) lack is a true strategic structure. Right now it is tactical, operating instinctively, lashing out at targets which it determines in an ad hoc way. These tactics are effective and the level of sophistication will probably rise over time as it has continued to rise for some years now. The cell structure will grow more granular, and sub groups will emerge to take on a wider variety of tactical goals.
I imagine that Anonymous will also start to focus its attacks on a narrower range of targets, and this will rest in a rise in the strategic sophistication of the organisation. The piracy issue is a natural fit for a group like Anonymous.
I advise anyone with an interest in cyberwar to stop reading a lot of what is in the popular media about the topic, and start reading about Anonymous.
If you want to understand the sorts of people who are part of Anonymous, read this article on Encyclopedia Dramatica. There are surprising kernals of truth.
I'll leave on this quote, taken from ED, which sums it up better than I can:
Anonymous is not a person, nor is it a group, movement or cause: Anonymous is a collective of people with too much time on their hands, a commune of human thought and useless imagery. A gathering of sheep and fools, assholes and trolls, and normal everyday netizens. An anonymous collective, left to its own devices, quickly builds its own society out of rage and hate. Anonymous can be anyone from well-meaning college kids with highly idiosyncratic senses of humor trying to save people from Scientology, to devious nihilist hackers, to clever nerds, to thirteen year old boys who speak entirely in in-jokes on an endless quest for porn, to 16 year old girls posting pictures of their B-cups because they think they look good, to potential rapists browsing through MySpace to find some 16 year old girls posting pictures of their B-cups because they think they look good. Furries are not included among the ranks of Anonymous due to their supreme faggotry. For this same reason all furfags are destroyed within .666 seconds of facing the power of AnonymousThis is the future of citizen activism now, welcome to it, let us see where it takes us.
As individuals, [members of Anonymous] can be intelligent, rational, emotional and empathetic. As a mass, a group, they are devoid of humanity and mercy. Never before in the history of humanity has there once been such a morass, a terrible network of the peer-pressure that forces people to become one, become evil. Welcome to the soulless mass of blunt immorality known only as the Internet.