Anonymous (Internet Group)

What Is Anonymous (Internet Group)?

Anonymous is a loosely organized Internet group of hackers and political activists that began as a collective in 2003 on 4chan, an anonymous internet chat board. Members of the Anonymous community communicate and collaborate via social network services and encrypted Internet chat rooms.

Anonymous is most widely known for its cyber-attacks against governments, government-affiliated groups, corporations, and the Church of Scientology.

Individuals who wish to be recognized as part of the group wear Guy Fawkes masks in public in order to conceal their identities. Guy Fawkes, also known as Guido Fawkes, was a member of a group of provincial English Catholics who were involved in the Gunpowder Plot—a failed assassination plot—of 1605. The Gunpowder Plot was an attempt to secure greater religious tolerance under King James. After blowing up the House of Lords, King James' residence, his daughter Elizabeth, was to be installed as the Catholic head of state.

Later, Fawkes would become synonymous with the Gunpowder Plot, the failure of which has been commemorated since 1605 in the UK. On this day, Fawkes effigy is traditionally burned on a bonfire, commonly accompanied by fireworks.

Key Takeaways

  • Anonymous is a loosely organized Internet group of hackers and political activists that began as a collective in 2003 on 4chan, an anonymous internet chat board.
  • Anonymous is most widely known for its cyber-attacks against governments, government-affiliated groups, corporations, and the Church of Scientology.
  • Members of the Anonymous community communicate and collaborate via social network services and encrypted Internet chat rooms.
  • Individuals who wish to be recognized as part of the group in public wear Guy Fawkes masks in order to conceal their identities.

Actions and Methods of Anonymous (Internet Group)

To the extent Anonymous has a coherent ethos, it features decentralized communities interested in engaging in mutual goals. These goals have historically ranged from political statements to pranks and hacks, sometimes in retaliation for actions taken against the group itself—or those for whom members of a given operation feel an affinity.

Groups of Anonymous members have thrown support behind political movements such as the Arab Spring. Common methods of protest or retaliation include "distributed denial of service" (DDoS) attacks on governments or organizations. Among the group’s most highly publicized activities are the actions taken against Visa, Mastercard, and Paypal, in response to moves those organizations made to freeze payments to WikiLeaks in 2010. These actions are known as Operation Payback.

Reach and Decline of Anonymous (Internet Group)

The decentralized nature of Anonymous can make it difficult to judge the extent of its reach or power in any given activity. In practical terms, the strength of an Anonymous action appears to be proportional to the number of people interested and involved in an action. This structure also means any loose group interested in participating in a collective operation can call itself Anonymous (or claim to be part of the group).

The frequency of operations claimed by Anonymous members declined significantly after the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) infiltrated the group via an informant in 2011. A group of former hackers assisted the FBI in identifying a major player in an arm of the group called LulzSec. This eventually led to his arrest. The arrested hacker, known online as Sabu, became an informant. LulzSec disbanded and Sabu created a second operation, AntiSec, in its wake, this time under the direction of the FBI. A hacking operation that yielded private information—including credit card numbers—from the geopolitical intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting, also known as Stratfor, led to the arrest of another Anonymous-linked hacker.

The identity and structure of Anonymous make it difficult to determine the exact effects of these events. The marked slowdown in claims made by the group in the years following 2011 drove speculation that greater caution among members drove major players to keep a lower profile. However, the group continues to announce actions and issue warnings via its official website and Twitter account.

Article Sources

Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Britannica. "Gunpowder Plot." Accessed Dec. 3, 2020.

  2. Britannica. "Guy Fawkes Day." Accessed Dec. 3, 2020.

  3. Atlantic. "The Hacks That Mattered in the Year of the Hack." Accessed Dec. 3, 2020.

  4. The Guardian. "WikiLeaks supporters disrupt Visa and MasterCard sites in 'Operation Payback'." Accessed Dec. 3, 2020.

  5. The Guardian. "LulzSec: what they did, who they were and how they were caught." Accessed Dec. 3, 2020.

  6. CNET. "Report details extent of Anonymous hack on Stratfor." Accessed Dec. 3, 2020.