Are "Anonymous" hackers planning real live attacks?
A computer security firm working to expose members of hacker group "Anonymous" pulled out of a premier industry conference here due to threats of real-world attacks on its employees.
HBGary personnel have been peppered with threatening messages since Anonymous hackers looted data from its computer systems earlier this month, according to a message on the California firm's website Wednesday.
"In addition to the data theft, HBGary individuals have received numerous threats of violence, including threats at our tradeshow booth," the company said.
"In an effort to protect our employees, customers and the RSA Conference community, HBGary has decided to remove our booth and cancel all talks."
Cyber security specialists and national security officials are in San Francisco this week to share insights on topics ranging from guarding "smart" power grids to blocking attacks on smartphones and computer tablets.
Anonymous, the hacker group behind online attacks on companies that withdrew services to WikiLeaks, busted through HBGary Federal computer defenses early this month because the firm was working with federal agents to expose their identities.
Anonymous took credit for breaking into the website of HBGary Federal, stealing tens of thousands of email messages and temporarily routing traffic to a page with a vitriolic message.
The HBGary hack was more sophisticated than the distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks last year on the Amazon, Visa and MasterCard websites in apparent retaliation for their decisions to stop working with WikiLeaks.
WikiLeaks has triggered political ire in Washington for its publication of a trove of classified US diplomatic cables, as well as military reports from Iraq and Afghanistan.
In a typical DDoS attack, a large number of computers are commanded to simultaneously visit a website, overwhelming its servers, slowing service or knocking it offline completely.
Last month, British police arrested five people and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation launched raids across the United States as part of a probe into cyberattacks by Anonymous.
Wath is a DDoS attack ?
A distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack is one in which a multitude of compromised systems attack a single target, thereby causing denial of service for users of the targeted system. The flood of incoming messages to the target system essentially forces it to shut down, thereby denying service to the system to legitimate users. In a typical DDoS attack, a hacker (or, if you prefer, cracker) begins by exploiting a vulnerability in one computer system and making it the DDoS master. It is from the master system that the intruder identifies and communicates with other systems that can be compromised. The intruder loads cracking tools available on the Internet on multiple -- sometimes thousands of -- compromised systems. With a single command, the intruder instructs the controlled machines to launch one of many flood attacks against a specified target. The inundation of packets to the target causes a denial of service.
While the press tends to focus on the target of DDoS attacks as the victim, in reality there are many victims in a DDoS attack -- the final target and as well the systems controlled by the intruder. Although the owners of co-opted computers are typically unaware that their computers have been compromised, they are nevertheless likely to suffer degradation of service and malfunction. Both owners and users of targeted sites are affected by a denial of service. Yahoo, Buy.com, RIAA and the United States Copyright Office are among the victims of DDoS attacks. DDoS attacks can also create more widespread disruption. In October 2010, for example, a massive DDoS attack took the entire country of Myanmar offline.
A computer under the control of an intruder is known as a zombie or bot. A group of co-opted computers is known as a botnet or a zombie army. Both Kaspersky Labs and Symantec have identified botnets -- not spam, viruses, or worms -- as the biggest threat to Internet security.
Anonymous: Because None of Us Are As Cruel As All of Us
You’re walking down a street in the city of Sydney, about to cross the road, when you see thirty people carrying placards, in capes and costumes, wearing masks and handing out flyers. One is carrying a boombox. They start to dance. Then they play Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’, and in unison sing it with passion to the building opposite.
That’s right, you’ve just seen a real life Rick Roll. And you’ve just witnessed a protest against the Church of Scientology by Anonymous.
Don’t worry, I’m from the Internet
It is difficult to say what Anonymous is. Ask a member to explain it and they will first tell you of its very indefinabilty. Anonymous is a group identity for members of several online communities, who celebrate the freedom granted by the anonymity of the internet and loosely work together to achieve goals (usually for nothing more grand than having fun). Anonymous grew out of imageboards like the infamous 4chan, where people post anonymously to discuss anything and everything.
Users of these boards began to refer to Anonymous as an actual person, and the running joke became a shared identity for the unnamed masses of the internet. As a shared culture it has its own language, inside jokes and memes. Its effects on the internet are widespread, the most well known of which is the lolcat phenomenon (funny pictures of cats with captions in comically bad english) that started as Caturday on the 4chan imageboards.
The group is often characterised as a horde of supremely bored teenage boys, but that definition is far too narrow. Anonymous is random and unpredictable, it has no leaders and no political agenda and its sense of identity can be boiled down to the feeling of being in on an extremely funny joke.
The Church of Scientology has a history of conflict with people using the internet to critisize and expose the church. Various discussion boards for ex-Scientologists have been legally challenged and shutdown, and information about the church removed from the internet.
On 14th January 2008, parts of a Scientology promotional video featuring Tom Cruise were leaked onto YouTube. The Church claimed copyright infringement, and the video was removed. Pop culture blog, Gawker, put it back up and refused to remove it on the basis that it was newsworthy.
While it is difficult to define the values of Anonymous, it is almost universally accepted that Internet freedom of speech is of paramount importance. Anonymous saw the actions of Scientology as the last straw in its efforts to censor the internet. Thus Project Chanology, the ongoing protest against Scientology by Anonymous, was born.
On the 21st of January, this video was posted by ‘Anonymous’. In the wake of this video a flood of illegal DDOS (distributed denial of service attack) attacks started against Scientology websites. This involved multiple compromised systems flooding the bandwidth of Scientology’s websites to make them unavailable, and at the same time, sending Scientology centres around the world prank phone calls, pizza deliveries, black faxes to use up ink and even bomb threats. TV journalist and long-time critic of the church Mark Bunker responded to Anonymous’ campaign via YouTube. While he praised the group’s intentions and enthusiasm, he had serious problems with the illegal activities being undertaken. His advice to Anonymous was to protest peacefully using only legal methods and suggested that concentrating on removing the Church’s tax exempt status would be the most effective way to damage them.Surprisingly Anonymous accepted Bunker’s criticism and decided to behave. Anonymous wrote a Code of Conduct for peaceful protesting.
Mark Bunker has become affectionately known as Wise Beard Man by Anonymous members and has become something of an internet meme himself, with various supernatural properties credited to his beard. What’s most remarkable is that Bunker was able to do the seemingly impossible –- he was able to bring discipline to the anarchy that is Anonymous. His information about the Church can be found at his website Xenu TV.
Why They Protest
No one member of Anonymous can speak for the collective. Motivations for protesting are diverse. In Sydney, some people protest because they believe in the importance of the freedom of the internet. Others, because they want to take a stand against what they say is an immoral and greedy cult. And others just because street parties are fun.
Armband Guy, a member of the Sydney Anonymous discussion board, got interested in Project Chanology after the first Anonymous video. “When Anon declared war on Scientology, I began to research more and more. By the time it got to the first protest, I was very, very passionate.”
In the course of his research Armband Guy was disturbed by the actions of the Church. “[They were] actively, and illegally, attempting to censor the internet – something I could never forgive, internet freedom is something I care very deeply about.”
“I fight because I know we will win. I know we are winning, and in a few years the Church will be nothing more than a bad memory. This will set an example to the rest of the world – the internet is a powerful force for social change, and will not tolerate your bullshit.”
For some people the reason to fight is more personal. For Anonfairy, the realisation that the church’s ideology was dangerous spurred him to take action. “I was originally interested in Scientology until one day, after going into the org [meaning the Sea Org, the Church's militaristic youth branch] to get a free personality test and just find out a bit about the church, I was told by the auditor that homosexuality was a contagious illness and that they could cure me of it for a nominal fee. I then realised how screwed up Scientology was and found out about Anonymous through a friend. I am so glad that I realised the truth about Scientology before it was too late.”Anonymous protests are remarkably peaceful affairs. For the last protest in Sydney in October, police didn’t bother sending any officers. “We’re not quite like any other protest group,” says Anonymous protester EpicTallGuy. “We’re so tame that we wait for the pedestrian traffic light to turn green; and so friendly we party and have fun even as we protest seriously.”
The Church is known for its litigous nature, which is why Anonymous members wear masks as they protest – it is to protect their identities just as much as it is about representing the Anonymous meme. Some Anons claim they have been harassed by Scientologists, receiving letters threatening litigation, and even being followed in the city. Anonfairy says “there is one Scientologist in particular that yells my forum name out to me in the street then says my real name in an attempt to intimidate me.” Other members have seen this as well. Protester thefatman says “This has happened to numerous Anons. Certain high up clams will refer to Anons by their real name. [They will say] ‘Hey (forum name here)’ and the clams will go ‘Hey David Graham’. They also always do it with a lame smug look on their face that makes them feel special.”
A member in Sydney, who uses the name Dionysian, explains Anonymous like this: “A group of people who originally became organised through an internet site to stop the church from subduing free speech, and then learnt of the further atrocities and became a fully fledged movement. We have no leadership and function as a group, a sort of democracy through anarchy where ideas are shared, discussed and either rejected or embraced based purely on their merits.”
In its apparent democracy through anarchy, with no leadership or defining purpose, Anonymous could be said to be a realisation of the marketplace of ideas. It is something that could only have formed via the medium of the internet, and would not have been possible even just a few years ago. It is a new kind of organisation, and could be a sign of how in the future people with common interests around the world will mobilise and take action to promote change. Or it could just be an internet meme made manifest, that will fade away as all jokes do, into irrelevancy.Whatever it means for the future, in the present Project Chanology’s affect on the Church of Scientology is undeniable. The negative press about the church is growing, and its efforts to suppress information on the internet have failed miserably. There’s no telling where it will go from here.