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A Little Less Anonymous Today

Several suspected members of “Anonymous” were arrested Tuesday morning in states across the country in a federal raid on the notorious computer hacking group. In addition, searches of homes took place in Long Island, New York, with others occurring in Brooklyn, Colorado, Washington DC, and Ohio.

The state of California filed charges against 14 people believed to be linked to Anonymous, with other indictments coming out of Newark, New Jersey and Tampa, Florida courthouses. Suspects in the UK and the Netherlands were also arrested early today in a sting that nabbed over 20 people internationally.

Age is not a factor in the crackdowns. A British schoolboy has been arrested for allegedly being part of both Anonymous and another group called LulzSec, which has been linked to a wave of cyber attacks on high-profile organizations. The 16-year-old (no name given) from South London was yesterday questioned under the Computer Misuse Act over links with these hacking groups.

We at the SGU were approached a few years ago by people claiming to be a part of the Anonymous organization.  This was during a time when we were going hot and heavy against Tom Cruise and Scientology.  They were essentially attempting to cozy up to us so that we would speak favorably about their organization’s efforts to bring down Scientology via their Project Chanology. We declined to answer any of their emails or inquiries, for reasons that may seem terribly obvious today.

Suffice to say, I have never cared for Anonymous.  I have a big time problem with hacker culture. They are anarchists, not just in philosophy, but in action. They employ destructive tactics against anyone or any organization that they deem as an enemy. The lawlessness and destructiveness inherent in their beliefs and actions are just the sort of thing that is anathema to honest and law-abiding skeptical organizations.

While we may share some of the same “enemies” in the world, it is not the goal of the SGU, or any other legitimate skeptical organization that I can think of, to operate or scheme outside the boundaries of the laws of our country’s government.  Chaos and anarchy are not the calling cards of good skeptics.  They are the tactics of thugs and criminals whom deserve to be persecuted to the fullest extents of the law.

So what happens to Anonymous from here?  I can only imagine that they will continue to work in the shadows, usurping civil order and discord, leaving a wake of pain and frustration in people’s lives, not the least of which are the “unintended” (or by now, intended) consequences of the actions of these hacker groups, and others just like them.

There should be no tolerance for hackers and the hacker culture, least of all by anyone in the skeptical community.

11 comments to A Little Less Anonymous Today

  • purgatori

    Although I have no objections to the main thrust of your post, the generalizations about ‘hackers’ and ‘hacker culture’ are a little careless.

    The term ‘hacker’ is a very broad one. It *can* refer to people engaged nefarious ‘cyber-crimes’ such as the data theft, the circumvention of security, denial of service attacks, etc. However it can also refer to computing enthusiasts who like to ‘hack’away at code to create new applications or scripts, or to expand or customize the functionality of existing applications. It is the latter corresponds to the original usage. Linus Torvalds, and many others involved in the Free Software/Open Source movement are hackers, but obviously their goals and acitivites couldn’t be more different.

  • Bear

    “They are the tactics of thugs and criminals…”

    Well, said. Although it may seem tempting to do something more severe to some of the unsinkable rubber ducks out there, education is the only way to hit them where it hurts by tipping off their prey.

  • As a child of apartheid South Africa, I have to reject the idea that obeying the law is automatically the right thing for good skeptics to do. Since laws are entirely artificial human constructs and humans are prone to all sorts of errors, we should absolutely be critical of them, and in serious cases (e.g. apartheid) actively reject them, even at the cost of lost income and damaged property (though harming people must obviously be avoided).

    Whether that’s the case in any or all of the Anonymous attacks can be debated (I have no firm opinion on the matter), but we shouldn’t assume that lawful necessarily equals good, and that a legitimate skeptics’ organisation can’t side against the law, when necessary. (Besides, everyone knows that Neutral Good is better – gooder, in fact – than both Lawful Good and Chaotic Good.)

  • Yorick

    I could be aggravated about your blatant conflation of cracking and hacking, and ignorance of the fact that there are great social, technological and scientific advances that have been created by self-identified hackers (just to name a few: the personal computer, the multi-user operating system, the Internet)

    Or I could just be insulted that I’ve just been called a thug and a criminal by group-name association.

    Or I could point out that the vast majority of these arrests are stupid kids hanging out on IRC using a program called the Low-Orbit Ion Cannon in a community where they have tried to fit in, and the odds of any of the talented crackers involved in the Lulzsec mess getting arrested are slim-to-none…

    Or I could just ignore a near-sighted, uninformed article with gross and offensive generalisations about important subsections of the computer programming and security communities and get on with hacking code in my respectable R&D job.

  • peterk

    I would like to point out that there is a significant difference between “hackers” and, what you are refering to, “crackers”, or “black-hat hackers”.

    See:

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=hacker

  • Brian Walsh

    I agree with what you said about Anonymous and LulzSec, but I think a strong connection is in order. You claimed that these people are hackers and a part of the hacker culture. Further, you said that there should be no tolerance for hackers and the hacker culture. As someone with a long history in hacking culture and skepticism, I have to respectfully submit that you don’t seem to know what you’re talking about.

    Hackers are typically people interested in technology of all kinds that pursue this interest through innovation, and tinkering. The hacker community is one that empraces innovation, openness and advancement of technology through experimentation. Hackers do, at times, gain access to systems they don’t belong in. They don’t do this to cause harm but to learn. The people you describe in this article are decidedly not hackers and are not welcomed by the hacker community. They are juvenile thugs, script kiddies who use off the shelf programs like the Low Orbit Ion Cannon to commit crimes and cyber-terrorism. Calling them hackers is like Jenny McCarthy calling us in the skeptical community shills. It is insulting, misleading, and incorrect.

    Far from rejecting hacker culture, skeptics should be embracing it. Social engineering is used by con artists to commit fraud, by understanding it we can help combat it. And the hacker spirit, the spirit of learning, discovery, and exploration is exactly that which has allowed skepticism to grow.

    I expect news outlets to demonize hackers incorrectly, but I’m frankly astonished that you seem to know so little about real hacker culture.

  • Candace Carpenter

    While certainly some people who are affiliated with groups like anonymous and Lulzsec are likely thugs and criminals, I see an over-generalization here. Business computer security is a complicated matter. Like many areas that skeptics deal with, it’s easy to point a finger and say “Those anonymous people, they’re bad”, but the matter is a lot more complicated.
    1. Our media has a tendency to treat any “hacking” event as if it was done by an elite coalition of computer gods, omnipotent and omnipowerful. (http://informationweek.com/news/global-cio/interviews/231000546?queryText=omnipotent+hackers) In reality, a lot of hacking occurs because computer security not well understood and under-prioritized by many businesses. That doesn’t meant that hackers are doing a good deed, but lets not pretend they are more than what they are. A person who robs a home that has all it’s doors and windows propped open is not a master thief intent on bring down the fall of civilization.
    2. These groups are huge, and are made up by just as many activists as criminals. Just as many bright-eyed teens trying to make a difference in the world, or send a message they’re sure will be heard, as cynical anarchists trying to bring the man down. Casting “hackers” as evil misanthropes is not useful in understanding their motivations or protecting our businesses against them.
    3. What is “hacker culture” exactly and what are rational reasons behind excluding it? For some educational institutions it means students are *not allowed* to take computer security classes. Sure, that means you won’t have any black hats coming out of your school, but you won’t get any white hats either. Is there something beyond a dislike for anonymous that I am not understanding?

  • Candace Carpenter

    A quick addition to the problem of generalization, you think of “hacker culture” as anonymous, but events like this one http://youngrewiredstate.org/yrs2011/18-or-under/ are also “hacker culture” and I think we would agree that it’s a good thing to do.

  • I agree these guys go way too far. I mean, it’s one thing for them to want to hurt — say — the Sony corporation, but it’s beyond the pale for them to take down Sony’s gaming network, that millions of consumers (who are obviously NOT Sony corporation) use, and violate their privacy and take away something they already paid for. If they were truly trying to harm Sony as a corporation, they’d have chosen a different tactic & target — say, hacking into corporate emails or something of that kind. Something that didn’t harm millions of innocent bystanders.

    I could say the same for Bradley Manning, the kid accused of dumping a quarter million diplomatic wires on Wikileaks. His followers claim he’s a whistleblower exposing illegality … but dropping a mass of over 200,000 documents is not going to accomplish that goal. Call it the “needle in a haystack” effect: That many documents makes it harder, not easier, to find the handful that expose something illegal. Had that been Manning’s true motive, he’d have leaked only a dozen or so clearly relevant documents.

    As far as I can tell, Anonymous & Manning & their cohorts are just a bunch of destructive malcontents looking to gratify their own criminal urges, using rationales such as their dislike for certain corporations and/or governments or the claim of being “whistleblowers,” in order to justify their sociopathy. I’m not stupid enough to buy any of those rationales. Unfortunately, it seems a lot of folks (present company excluded) ARE foolish enough to fall for it.

  • There is no need to be offended. Clearly Evan simply misinterpreted the definition of the term “hacker” and was not referring to legitimate hacking in his comments.

  • Yorick

    I would say Evan should be corrected, vigorously, on the misunderstanding.

    I also think that the coverage of the arrests is grossly oversimplified. There probably are going to be stupid, basically harmless people doing time (Anonymous members with LOIC DDoS ‘hacktivism’), and very few dangerous people who actually know what they’re doing going to prison (the Lulzsec crackers breaking into companies and stealing data). That and Anonymous and Lulzsec are *not* the same group, so a lot of the news is getting confused.

    Distancing the NESS and Anonymous is perfectly fair (in fact to be commended, they’re mad buggers