The Year Anonymous Disappeared

Posted January 7th, 2013 at 3:23 pm (UTC-4)

Just What Happened to the Internet’s Great Terror?

Doug Bernard | Washington DC

Just who, or what, is Anonymous these days?

Prediction is a fool’s game. Just ask anyone leaving Las Vegas. Or Nate Silver.

Generally speaking, we don’t play the “Top Ten 2013” list-type entries that populate blogs and other journalism this time of year. There aren’t many things about the future that can be predicted.

But there are a few. Looking back to this same time last year, you might have said we were fools to predict the rapid decline of Anonymous.

“How far will Anonymous go before it goes too far?” we asked back on Feb. 8, 2012. “The answer may come sometime soon.”

It seems that 2012 has given us an answer.

When Things Go Bad

For those unfamiliar, Anonymous calls itself a group with no leaders, no members and no plan, other than what Anonymous decides to do…whatever that means. In point of fact, as we’ve pointed out before, this is simply a lie – but it’s a lie the media have willingly gobbled up and repeated.

Of course there are members of Anonymous, even if many come or go depending on the issue. It takes many busy hands to launch a successful attack against the government of Egypt, or the Zeta drug cartel, as two examples. Of course there are part-time leaders choosing targets and coordinating work, even if they don’t like to be called that. And in spite of some of its admittedly “white hat” good-guy attacks it has launched, of course Anonymous has a plan. That plan, in part, has been to get people talking about Anonymous.

For years, the merry band of pranksters that make up Anonymous has brilliantly exploited media appetites with a series of attacks on the computers systems of governments and corporations, accompanied by a taunting, swaggering attitude that reporters ate up. They rallied to the support of accused leaker Bradley Manning and embattled Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, striking back at credit companies that refused to process financial donations to the group. The group Telecomix, an Anonymous related group, has worked ceaselessly to harass or embarrass Syrian government authorities while keeping the rest of the population as connected to the Internet as possible. Famously, when the CEO of computer security firm HBGary thought he had exposed Anonymous members, he merely encouraged the group to strike back by seizing control of the firm’s systems, publicly humiliating the company and ruining the life of its boss. All of this (plus lots more) just in 2011.

If 2011 represented something of a highpoint for Anonymous, it also began what may have lead to its retreat underground. It was in that summer that the Anonymous-offshoot “LulzSec” began grabbing headlines and stirring it upwith a string of rapid, if not entirely sophisticated attacks on a wide series of targets – all, in their words, “for the lulz.” But also that year, U.S. federal authorities trying to break the back of Anonymous began targeting LulzSec, perhaps as a step closer to its ultimate target.

The Lulzsec mascot, in his salad days

That August, LulzSec leader Hector Xavier Monsegur, a.k.a. “AnonymousSabu,” began secretly working with the FBI to finger his computer compatriots. Six months later, in early 2012, the FBI arrested five people (one in the US, two in Britain and two in Ireland) charging them with participating in LulzSec hacks. As quickly as it appeared, LulzSec was over. But the biggest “lulz” – against Anonymous – had yet to come.

It may just be coincidence, but at nearly the same time, some of the first high-profile arrests of Anonymous members began in earnest. In February 2012, 25 people were arrested in Europe and South America. Soon after, self-appointed Anonymous spokesman (and perennial attention seeker) Barrett Brown was taken into custody in the middle of a live web-cast chat he was hosting. [Ed note: this is really worth watching!]

Although less entertaining, more arrests followed.  All while Anonymous slid further and further from public view. Observers began to publicly wonder whether the unthinkable might have occurred: that the multiple heads of the Anonymous hydra may have been chopped off.

Losing The Limelight

To be sure, hack attacks have continued. It wouldn’t be beyond belief to think a small volley might be aimed squarely at yours truly for poking a few holes in Anonymous’ reputation. And it is nearly impossible to ever fully contain a group whose membership and leaders are so fluid and ad hoc. Anonymous won’t die largely because it can’t.

But something changed in 2012. For a group whose oxygen had been the media spotlight, it’s noteworthy that there was less bluster, less posturing, and significantly less activity credited to Anonymous last year.

On December 28, 2012, a report prepared by the security firm McAfee (named for founder John McAfee, who has had his own problems in 2012) concluded:

“Because Anonymous’ level of technical sophistication has stagnated and its tactics are better understood by its potential victims, the group’s level of success will decline. However, we could easily imagine some short-lived spectacular actions due to convergence between hacktivists and antiglobalization supporters, or hacktivists and ecoterrorists.”

Meaning: the days of spectacularly brazen hack attacks by Anonymous may largely be behind us.

That’s only one opinion, and perhaps not all that new. A year ago, in late 2011,Meaghan Kelly, writing at VentureBeat, wondered whether Anonymous would continue to spin off other groups that pick up the hacktivist banner:

“Anonymous isn’t made up of individuals who allwant to “dox,” or reveal personally identifiable information on the Internet. Instead, many of these people prefer disrupting a website’s service or systems to prove a point. These may be the people who branch off, leaving those who wish to publish personal information to fly the Anonymous flag.”

As long as there’s an Internet, there will be pranksters. Just witness last week’s exposure of the “Bicholim Conflict“, a completely fabricated entry on Wikipedia about a non-existent battle between the colonial Portuguese and India’s Maratha empire. The article, all 4,000+ words of it, lived on Wikipedia’s site for more than five years before an editor, ShelfSkewed, discovered the ruse. Pretty good lulz.

At the end of 2011, this blog declared that year to be “The Year of Anonymous.” Now, just one year later, it looks like Anonymous’ moment has come and – for the moment at least – gone.

18 responses to “The Year Anonymous Disappeared”

  1. […] recaptcha spies The Year Anonymous Disappeared – Voice of America (blog) wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptVoice of America (blog)The Year […]

  2. Null says:

    Haha. What a joke.

  3. Horus Sorus says:

    I am good friends of an anon, member and let me tell you Anonymous is not going away as governments can not kill an idea. In fact they are going to up the anti and go after the bigger wealthy end of town. The reallocation of funds will hit them where it hurts and their corruption will be exposed. 2013 will be hard hitting and heavy.

    • Doug Bernard says:

      Horus – I agree that Anonymous isn’t going away for good. The headline, and the story, were aimed at telling the story of how, and perhaps why, Anonymous ducked from public view in 2012. Like we both said, no-one can ever smother Anonymous. But it is worth noting how differently they’re picking targets, and conducting themselves this year. Thanks for the note. –dbj

      • Noam Deplum says:

        Not only is anonymous not going away for good, it hasn’t gone away at all. It’s merely undergoing an evolution of strategy. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, so why should the tactics remain the same? The hacking capability is still there, but as the planet has yet to pull its head out of its posterior, other avenues are being explored.

        Don’t mistake a change in tactics for lack of support. Indeed, the hive only grows stronger and stronger by the day. And little of it depends on a concept as ludicrous as “public opinion”. If the “public” by and large had two brain cells to rub together ya’ll never would have gotten yourselves into this ungodly mess.

        Make no mistake, the motives of anon remain, as ever, partially to drive a stake into the heart of corruption on a global level, but mostly the fact that this is amusing as hell. Yes, anon has done some truly horrific actions and is quite probably the most bipolar “organization” since the dawn of man, but they are CONSTANTLY evolving, both in tactics and motivation. And, since no one else seemed willing to sack up and fix this silliness, they’ve taken up the reigns of global reformation. We all have a right to privacy. We all have a right to justice and we all have a right to a system and leaders that actually work for their people and not themselves.

        The innocent have nothing to fear. The guilty… well… they’ll be put in the virtual stocks and pelted with imaginary rotten fruit until they realize that the world will no longer tolerate their shenanigans. Unless anon starts having fun[tm], and then god help them. But violence, is, as ever, a refuge for the utterly stupid and pathetically unimaginative. There’s more than one way to skin a global totalitarian oligarchy. (if you think that’s overstating it, you need to read moar)

        So yeah, imagine the love children of the three stooges and Chaplin’s final speech from The Great Dictator drunk in a razor blade factory. It may be disturbing at times, but boy will it be a hell of a show.

        Come for the revolution, stay for the lulz.

        • Doug Bernard says:

          “Nom” – I’m not sure there’s anything you said I disagree with. The title is obviously provocative, like many headlines are. But the thrust of the post was that Anonymous has fallen off the media radar screen, largely through its own doing. As individuals flow into and out of Anonymous, so, too, will its focus and tactics.
          I’m still stuck on the love children, though. Thanks; –dbj

          • Noam Deplum says:

            Provacitivity obtained. And the article definitely makes for a neat lil conversation starter.

            Honestly I think the problem with the media attention this last year is less about inaction on the part of anon and more the fact that it’s a VERY short list of people who actually understand exactly what anon *is*. Far easier to attempt to shoehorn it into standard cultural mores in the hopes that it will quietly comply with what’s expected of a “terrorist” organization, or a protest group, or hippies, or culture jammers or any of the other multitudinous structures that are far easier to define. The fundamental problem is that in a world where every single thing imaginable has been done a bajillion times before, Anonymous is something new. Which makes it a real bear to write about.

            SPOLIER WARNING, PLOT DETAILS FOLLOW: Ask yourself what atoms forming molecules, single cells forming multi-cellular life, individuals forming societies and societies forming Anonymous have in common if you really want a brain scratcher.

          • Mason Morris says:

            As a devoted anon, I can tell you that the majority of us do not really care about media attention. We would rather the media cover the endless corruption in our world than Anonymous’ latest dox.

          • Doug Bernard says:

            MM – we’ll try and do better. Thanks; –dbj

  4. AnonForecast says:

    I am the AnonForecast from the video you mentioned. You speak about the death of Anonymous like how the boy in the steubenville video laughs at the rape victim. You have no idea what luciferic horrors were being held at bay by my brothers and sisters. Google Milgram, beatitudes and constitutional duty you f–ing traitor. its people like you that make me look forward to watching this world burn itself alive. Your arrogance and ignorance are disgusting. Burn in cyber-Lou,ghell with diabolos, doug.

    • Doug Bernard says:

      AF – you’re saying that eports of your death have been greatly exaggerated? I didn’t know disappearing was equivalent to dying. Steubenville is actually a great example. The video released by Anonymous has decidedly influenced events there. Effective, but you must admit nowhere near the swaggering attacks of the recent past. Thanks for writing. –dbj

  5. CapnSapper says:

    The year it disappeared? Really? Are you even watching the news about Steubenville, OH? Maybe you should check it out, no?

  6. Anon says:

    Wow this author hasn’t got a clue haha. I Think he is lookin for anon in all the wrong places. We are still kicking, maybe we should invite you over for a cuppa?

  7. Mike Havenar says:

    They said communism was dead too. But only Soviet communism died. You cannot kill an idea as long as there are people who can think it.

  8. I just got through watching the movie. I was fortunate to watch it before Lionsgate pulled it.

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