What is Anonymous? Inside the group plotting to attack Islamic State/ISIS

If you ask anyone to name a hacktivist group, chances are they’ll say “Anonymous”. While other groups like LulzSec, Lizard Squad and Team Poison may rise to prominence every so often, their castle inevitably crumbles, while Anonymous carries on, and has done for decades.

The answer to the question “who is Anonymous?” is part of the reason Anonymous has been so successful at avoiding infiltration and dismantlement like the others – Anonymous is no-one. Whereas most other groups have an internal structure, Anonymous is anarchic by design, with no head (indeed, the group will attack any individual claiming to represent them) and no command structure.

What is Anonymous we are legion we do not forgive we do not forget

What’s more, in theory at least, anyone can use the name “Anonymous”, although hardcore “Anons”, as members sometimes call themselves, will act to stop anything that’s particularly outside the group’s recently established ethics.

But Anonymous has evolved significantly from its birth on one of the more seedy sites on the web. Here, we’ve collected information about the group’s shadowy beginnings, the operations they’ve carried out and the media coverage they’ve garnered since their inception. 

Anonymous in 2015 – Anonymous vs CloudFlare

You won’t like Anonymous when they’re angry, and recently it was the turn of Silicon Valley firm, CloudFlare, to incur the collective’s wrath. Why? It alleges that CloudFlare has been protecting pro-ISIS websites from DDoS attacks. 

CloudFlare’s USP is simple: it optimises the speed of websites by distributing data all across the world, so that page load more quickly wherever you are in the world. Part of their service protects users from DDoS attacks, and it does this by routing connections via its own website in the event of a denial of service attack. 

In this instance, Matthew Prince, CEO and co-founder of CloudFlare, claims that Anonymous’ allegations are unfair. Talking to The Register, he suggested that it was somewhat hypocritical of Anonymous to claim that CloudFlare weren’t permitting DDoS attacks. “It’s hard to take seriously. Anonymous uses us for some of its sites, despite pressure from some quarters for us to take Anonymous sites offline.”

“Even if we were hosting sites for ISIS, it wouldn’t be of any use to us,” said Prince. “I should imagine those kinds of people pay with stolen credit cards and so that’s a negative for us.”

Anonymous in 2015 – Operation Paris #OpParis

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In the wake of the Paris attacks of 13 November, Anonymous directed its members to target ISIS with renewed vigour under the mantle of Operation Paris (#OpParis).

It’s not the first time the group has attacked ISIS and Islamic State, with Anonymous targeting them in wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks with Operation Isis (#OpIsis), but the group has now “declared war”.

The collective released a video on its YouTube account where it vowed to “track down the members of the terrorist group responsible for these attacks”. Since the video was released to the public, Anonymous claims that it has been responsible for the removal of more than 5,500 Twitter accounts related to the militant group.

This, however, is only the beginning. As Anonymous’ goal is to expose ISIS, they have stated that they “will do all that is necessary to end their actions [and to] expect a total mobilisation on our part”. The group’s various Twitter feeds give some feeling as to the scale of the operation.

With thousands of allegedly ISIS-related Twitter accounts already taken down within 72 hours of the events in Paris, it’s clear that this is only the beginning – the next step is widespread DDoS attacks co-ordinated with hacking groups worldwide.

However, while Anonymous may now be associated with a Robin Hood-esque attitude, this wasn’t always the case – it was spawned from rather grubbier beginnings. 

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