The mysterious hacktivist collective known as Anonymous has demonstrated several times its ability to both stir up Internet chaos and make a societal impact, carrying out dozens of high-profile cyberattacks that have merited reprimand from some while generating enthusiasm among others. However, the fragmented, leaderless nature of the group may lead to its ultimate undoing.
The technical prowess and bold claims of Anonymous have been capturing headlines for more than a year now, with everything from corporate data breaches to government website disruptions being tied to the group. However, the social consciousness displayed in recent months has portrayed the group in a different light for some.
With the takedown of one of the Internet's largest child pornography websites, the group proved that it can use its controversial talents for positive effect. It's recent facilitation of Occupy Wall Street protests also demonstrate Anonymous' interest in applying its skills for popular social causes.
However, consensus has at times been hard to come by within the internationally distributed ranks of Anonymous members. Although the group often touts the nobility of its actions, rogue behavior from those associated with the group threatens its reputation – and perhaps its very existence.
Reports circulating the web for the past several months suggested that Anonymous might have been gearing up for an elaborate attack on social media kingpin Facebook on November 5, to coincide with Guy Fawkes Day. The British holiday – long associated with themes of civil disobedience and revolution – seemed like a logical platform for the launch of yet another hacktivist display. However, the only discernible Facebook disruption came this past week, in the form of a spam attack containing violent and pornographic images.
According to InformationWeek, the massive attack unleashed upon the social media site bombarded users' newsfeeds with lewd and offensive photos for more than 24 hours.
Naturally, many believed the attack was Anonymous making good on its earlier claims to target the site.
However, that may not have been the case. As several security researchers noted, the attack did not match Anonymous' previous styles, and the methods used by hackers were remarkably simple and similar to previous Facebook attacks.
"These are ordinary scams and we believe Anonymous would use something more sophisticated," information security expert George Petre told Computerworld.
Careful analysis of the group's previous communications also suggests that an attack on Facebook would have been counterproductive.
"Our movement relies on communicating with people around the world so we can help one another," group members said in a post acquired by CNET. "If you are against how we communicate on Facebook, Twitter and Anonops for example, then you are against Anonymous and become our enemy since you are trying to disrupt our movement."
This does not necessarily rule out the possibility of rogue action on behalf of the former or current Anonymous members though. As the movement has gained strength and popularity, it has also been forced to face growing fragmentation within its own ranks.
Earlier in the month, Anonymous was in contact with a Mexican drug cartel in relation to the alleged kidnapping of an associated hacker.
"Some Twitter users who claim membership in the secretive hacker collective said they would be carrying out an attack against the ultra-violent Zetas by revealing the identities of the cartel's associates and businesses," explained Los Angeles Times columnist Daniel Hernandez. "Others, however, were reporting that the attack was canceled and warned that the operation, dubbed #OpCartel, would put innocent lives at risk."
These powerful issues of societal influence and collateral damage could divide any group, much less a leaderless Internet association. But as Hernandez noted, the social consciousness displayed in threatening to expose organized crime could have easily put Anonymous in over its head. Impulsive actions from just one member could have launched a wave of retaliatory violence and the deaths of innocent civilians.
When matters come this close to a boiling point, it also draws increased attention from authorities. The costly missteps of one member could reverse political will and force a worldwide escalation in the prosecution of Anonymous.
Such an occurrence was demonstrated earlier this summer, according to Fox News, when 16 alleged Anonymous hackers were arrested in association with a PayPal distributed denial of service attacks launched in support of WikiLeaks.
Even if the band of hackers continues to elude authorities, disagreement within its ranks could compromise the trajectory and impact of its attacks.
According to the Inquirer, new statements from Anonymous seem to suggest that the so-called Fawkes virus is still being refined, despite being implicated in Facebook's latest spam attack. The group has said it is actually more interested in bringing attention to the questionable privacy practices employed by social media sites, but rogue diversions could seriously inhibit progress toward the stated goal.
Security News from SimplySecurity.com by Trend Micro