What is Anonymous (Internet Group)

Anonymous is a loosely organized online group of hackers and political activists.

BREAKING DOWN Anonymous (Internet Group)

Anonymous began as a loose collective on 4chan, an anarchic and anonymous internet chat board. Members of the 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.

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 attacks on governments or organizations. Actions taken against Visa, Mastercard and Paypal in response to moves those organizations made to freeze payments to WikiLeaks in 2010 rank among the group’s most highly publicized activities, known as Operation Payback.

The Evolution of Anonymous

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 FBI infiltrated the group via an informant in 2011. A group of former hackers assisted in the FBI in identifying a major player in an arm of the group called LulzSec, leading 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 Stategic 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. The group continues to announce actions and issue warnings via its official website and Twitter account, however.