An Anonymous Year

Posted December 31st, 2011 at 7:31 pm (UTC-4)

A Year That Began And Ended Anonymously

Doug Bernard | Washington DC

It’s something of a party game, this time of year, to look back and put together lists. Top ten this, bottom five that; trends that are in or out, predictions about the coming calendar year.

Of course, it is largely that: a party game. Of all the moments of 2011, all the events on which tragedy turned or innovations sprang forward, there’s really no way to boil it down to a simple list. Was the death of Steve Jobs #5 or #4 in significance? Purely a matter of perspective. Which was the more important story, the attempt by Egypt to erase that nation from the Internet (unsuccessful) or efforts by Syria to keep it going, but use tricks to monitor and eavesdrop on social media (still ongoing)? That story hasn’t yet been finished. Has Facebook become everyone’s creepy friend? Depends who you ask.

We’re not even going to play the game, instead leaving it to others for some fun on the New Years. Rather, we have just one nominee in a new category: Top Story That Remains A Mystery.

That story starts and ends with one word: Anonymous.

We’ve written copious items about the antics – some silly, some serious – of the Anonymous hacker hive. The year began with Anonymous trying to shut down MasterCard and PayPal, for their decisions not to process donations to the group Wikileaks. It continued with Anonymous targeting various Arabic governments trying to repress the civic unrest on the streets and online, moved to attacks on the U.S. government for various reasons, then to corporate titans such as Sony, in support of the “Occupy Wall Street” movements around the world, and the bloody Mexican drug cartels. Just days ago, as the year was drawing to a close, Anonymous hacked the private intelligence group Stratfor – of which yours truly is a user – and published the personal details of all those registered with the group to receive its services.

This week the “AntiSec” branch of Anonymous published its handiwork. 50,277 credit card numbers were released, along with 86,594 e-mail addresses, 27,537 phone numbers and 44,188 encrypted passwords.  (If you’re wondering if you’re part of the hack, you can check here.)  Stratfor says it has addressed the problem, but of course, it really hasn’t. Now that all that data is out there, it can’t be erased.

For just about every significant news story this year, some part of Anonymous’ digital shadow hung large. We’ve even heard from Anonymous personally this year; after one of our stories, members of the group (presumably) hacked my personal email account, just to deliver a message. Dear Anonymous: I hear you.

But truth be told, I don’t fully understand you. Nor, I think, does anyone, really. For any given attack, there’s no sure way of knowing if Anonymous was behind it, or just some free-lancers looking for a little Internet mayhem. And then again, who’s to say what Anonymous even is? There’s no board, no director, no organizing structure. Just hundreds, or thousands, of web lurkers stirring up the digital pot. Anonymous is like fog: you can see it, but no matter how hard you try, you just can’t grab it.

So as we look back at what’s happened, and squint hard to try and imagine what the future holds, our money is that Anonymous will be there throughout the new year, whatever the story.

All good things to all our readers in the coming new year.

7 responses to “An Anonymous Year”

  1. […] clients vulnerableABS CBN NewsAnonymous targets military-gear site in latest holiday hackCNETAn Anonymous YearVoice of America (blog)Economic Times -Times of India -CNN Internationalall 280 news […]

  2. Of course there are leaders and an organizing structure. Do you think it’s really as easy as they say to go around hacking web sites? It has very rigid command structures in fact and they are merciless about keeping recruits in line.

    Journalistic coverage needs to become less breathless and impressed and more critical of this neo-totalitarian movement that wants to enforce Internet rule by force and take away other people’s rights.

    • Doug Bernard says:

      Catherine: I would love to speak with you directly about what you know. Can you contact me at VOA? Or drop me an email at I’ll know who it’s from. albest; –dbj

    • slothrop says:

      Catherine, I couldn’t help but cringe while reading your link. So many of the points in it were horribly misinformed if not downright fallacious. I cannot help but think that you have never truly interacted with Anonymous, or at least have never peered beyond their surface facade.

      Do not dismiss Anonymous as simply another organized cult with a hierarchy and “marching orders” – to do so is to completely ignore not only the immensely innovative way in which they operate but also the ways in which the internet has changed the basic interactions of society.

      Anonymous, 4chan, and the culture they have created should be likened less to Jonestown and more to Jamestown – though their attitude towards laws and societal norms is always questionable, their pioneering nature cannot be simply dismissed with a list of 38 erroneous, fear-mongering ‘factoids’.

  3. […] site in latest holiday hackCNETStratfor hacking leaves Philippine clients vulnerableABS CBN NewsAn Anonymous YearVoice of America (blog)Economic Times -Times of India -CNN Internationalall 281 news […]

  4. Cringe away, bro, the points are based on careful documentation of the facts for seven years. As I said, the first thing to understand about Anonymous is that they lie, and lie about lying, and try to throw everyone off balance by making it seem as if they are horribly ignorant about “the facts” of their very movement.

    There’s a great tendency with these latter-day Bolsheviks dressed in cyber-clothing to make it seem as if they are “innovative” and “new”. Thuggery isn’t innovation. The Internet merely amplifies and accelerates Lenin’s seizure of the telegraph post. Each and every one of the points I’ve made about this neo-totalitarian movement is a way for people to stop buying their narrative and start questioning their power. One of the favourite ruses of Anon is to say only they are “The Internet” and if anyone objects to their extremely rigid use and abuse of it,. why, they must be against freedom, or they must be against technological progress. Such a fallacy! They are against both, by continually taking it away from others. They utterly demolish a content business like Sony, and we’re all supposed to go around muttering, “It’s a *good* life” about this ominpotent child-tyrant.

    Don, it’s always best to be public in discussing and documenting Anonymous. Everything I know I’ve distilled into my essay, pretty much. You can Google “Barrett Brown” and “Second Life” and see some of his own admissions and the discussions about his claims on an SL forum.

    Stick with what your gut is on this: “For just about every significant news story this year, some part of Anonymous’ digital shadow hung large.” Indeed. It’s not innovative and cute. It’s sinister.

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