Who or What is Anonymous?
“Anonymous” allegedly used a distributed denial of service attack recently against the Sony PlayStation Network which brought the service to its knees and resulted in the service going offline – much to the chagrin of its user base.
The Independent website reported that Sony has since accused Anonymous of allowing details of 100 million of its customers to be hacked, these details include names, addresses, online account names, birth dates, and other information. Anonymous had reportedly refuted these claims claiming it was an innocent protest and, according to a recent article in ZD Net the AnonOps splinter of the Anonymous group have reportedly “denied orchestrating the hack on the Sony PlayStation Network.”. This is where things get muddy.
The umbrella term "Anonymous" represents an internet subculture – a collection of online individuals, or "hacktivists", who share common ideas – that of anti-censorship and freedom of speech on the internet. Whilst there are some extreme fringes Anonymous is largely about protests and public awareness and it isn’t just limited to bored young computer geeks. Everyday men and women, with strong concerns for online freedom, could be actively involved in Anonymous.
The idea of Anonymous, as a group, grew largely from an image sharing site back in 2003 where members would often upload images anonymously, whereby the user attribution would be set as "anonymous" – this, over time, gave rise to the idea, or "meme", that anonymous could be representative of some greater ideal.
The term "meme" is a relatively new term that essentially means an idea that is passed from person to person.
Anonymous have used Distributed Denial of Service Attacks (DDoS) and have been known to go up against large companies, institutions, and even countries where there is a belief of some injustice in freedom of speech, information, or censorship.
A Distributed Denial of Service attack may sound complicated and technical but, unfortunately, it is pretty easy to do as highlighted in the following example. Whilst not everyone will understand the technicalities of the term "bandwidth" most people understand that it is one of the limiting factors involved in how much information we can get from, and put on, the internet. If there isn’t enough bandwidth available then things run slowly or not at all. A Distributed Denial of Service attack sets out to fully utilise available bandwidth on an internet connection which prevents legitimate users from accessing the internet. This is often achieved using botnets – legions of "zombie" computers that can be pointed to target connections and constantly make requests.
A zombie computer is a computer that has been previously hacked and infected with special programs that allow remote hackers to take control of a computer and force it to work on their behalf.
Imagine a huge queue at the post office, all making pointless general enquiries, and you are at the back somewhere hoping to send a parcel – you may get the idea of a DDoS attack.
There is no clear governing body for Anonymous but there are a number of independent and decentralised groups who opt to use the Anonymous attribution, the logo of a suited person without a head, the Guy Fawkes mask, and the phrase "We are Legion". As the Anonymous symbol can be applied by any group at any time they are very hard to track down.
Back to the recent case involving Sony where various internet sites report that Anonymous focused its attentions on Sony after it took legal action against a well known hacker who jailbreaked the Play Station 3 (PS3). To jail break a device in this way generally means to bypass any restrictions put in place by the manufacturer which is usually against the terms and conditions of use. The hacker in question had previously been reported as jail breaking the Apple iPhone and devices are typically jail broken in this way to allow homebrew software to be run. The hacker then put details on the internet of how to jail break the PS3 which apparently caused Sony to get upset.
It wasn’t so much the legal action that got Anonymous hot under the collar but rather that Sony apparently used its legal eagles to gain access to other information held by the hacker, including details of people who had visited the site, holding the jail break instructions, together with other information such as PayPal accounts.
Whatever the outcome of this recent issue – as time goes by the idea of "Anonymous" as an orchestrated movement will grow. The faceless netizens for justice are watching and waiting, they are legion and they do not forget.
Further Reading and References
The Independent: Anonymous denies PlayStation Network hack accusation
Radio Free Europe: Did Anonymous Hack Sony’s PlayStation Network?
The Inquirer: Playstation hacker gets restrained by Sony
Wikipedia: Anonymous (group)
International Business Times: ‘We’re terribly sorry,’ Sony says; gives no new data for solving PlayStation glitch
AnonOps Communications: Message To PSN Users