Anonymous: Villain or Vigilante?
Monday, April 4, 2016
For many years, computer hacking was shown in films or TV shows as something nerdy-looking actors would do as they pulled out their laptops and quickly and magically weaseled their way into vaults, government agencies and important websites with relative ease. These computer geniuses were often shown as heroic when helping to pull off a heist, break a code or solve a crime.
The term “hacktivism” is defined as “the act of hacking, or breaking into a computer system, for politically or socially motivated purposes.” Hacktivism has been back in the limelight during recent months due to the release of millions of users’ information associated with the website Ashley Madison, a site dedicated to helping people cheat on their spouses or partners. Within days of that leak, hundreds of politicians, businessmen and women, and notable figures like Joshua Duggar were ousted for their participation as users of the site. And the cyber war continues to grow, with attacks on governments and businesses all across the globe.
There is perhaps no more visible representation of cyberwarfare than the group Anonymous. That network is notorious for its Guy Fawkes masks, the series of videos and statements it has released, and the groups that it has challenged. It is responsible for cyber-attacks on organizations such as the KKK, Westboro Baptist picketers, the Church of Scientology and many others. Anonymous also recently exposed China’s involvement in a series of cyber-attacks against the United States. Although the network has been around for more than a decade and has a history of big-time cyber-attacks on agencies and world governments, Anonymous became an ally of many when it declared war on the Islamic State.
Anonymous recently hacked ISIS’ website and released thousands of names of current ISIS members as well as recruiters and different locations in which the group has operated. Anonymous claimed that the cyber-attack on ISIS was done in retaliation for the Islamic State’s devastating terrorist attacks in Paris last November. Anonymous has continued its cyber-attacks on ISIS, even going as far as to change an ISIS website’s images and information. Anonymous members have said (anonymously, of course) that they will continue to go after ISIS to expose the Islamic State’s information and combat terrorism through the channels of cyberspace.
But the attacks do not merely target ISIS in terms of crippling the group. Anonymous also seeks to gather valuable information in determining the whereabouts and strategy of that militant organization. To date, Anonymous has been able to identify information and individuals associated with ISIS, but it also continues to plague Islamic terrorism with many different methods and cyber-attacks.
Anonymous is growing in popularity, with nearly 5 million likes on its Facebook page. Though the group is not headquartered and the identities of its members are kept secret, the vigilantes have continued to fight against ISIS and other organizations around the world. But some people continue to question the tactics of the group, saying that although Anonymous sometimes appears to combat evil, its overarching mission is unreliable and its focus can change at any moment. Still others doubt the effectiveness of Anonymous, arguing that the information the group is gathering isn’t as useful as it is believed to be.
In our technological age, the battle between good and evil is not necessarily fought in the trenches of some distant battlefield, but in the binary codes of cyberspace. As society continues to make advances in the realm of technology, cyberwarfare will only climb to new heights. Many countries are seeking ways to stop hackers in their tracks, and technological countermeasures are being quickly produced in an attempt to stop this growing trend. Even in recent news, the discrepancy of user information and the right to privacy has been called into question – for example, the American government’s asking for Apple to comply with its request to grant access to phones.
Hacker groups like Anonymous can do good and be a helpful force in battling evil, but many hackers can also be a source of corruption in stealing data from innocent victims or preying on personal information that puts users at risk. Many continue to be on the fence regarding Anonymous. The network is viewed by some as a sort of cyber “Robin Hood,” stealing information and data from companies, groups or individuals who are taking advantage of others. Still others are hesitant to back the group, as many are fearful about who its next target will be.
With each passing day, cyberwarfare becomes even more advanced. So while a group may appear to be a vigilante in seeking to undermine evil in the world, that same organization can turn its focus and attention at the whim of its political and social agendas. While Anonymous is widely unknown and its motives are uncertain, it would appear that in this case, the enemy of our enemy is our friend.