Has BLM cemented the return of hacktivist group Anonymous?

After a decade in hiding, the familiar caricature of Guy Fawkes has re-emerged online and in the streets. But is this Anonymous as we once knew it? 

As we now know, the atrocity of the George Floyd story was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes racial injustice doled out by US authorities. In the States and the UK, tensions continue to run high as protesters push for systematic change, all the while wrestling with the notion that their efforts are being overseen and contained by the same institutions that let them down for so long. 

It’s this hypocrisy that has prompted protesters to arm themselves with canny phone apps which conceal their identities at rallies, and has stirred something of a social media front to thwart police efforts to control, and in some cases undermine the BLM movement. 

If recent revelations are genuine, things could be about to get a whole lot worse for federal agencies across the States too. After almost a decade of inactivity, self-described ‘hacktivist’ group Anonymous is supposedly back, and is promising retribution for George Floyd and the thousands of victims we’ve yet to hear about.

Who is Anonymous? 

Identifiable by their signature Guy Fawkes mask, which incidentally is worn by an anarchist anti-hero fighting a white supremacist government in the novel ‘V for VendettaAnonymous is a loose affiliation of hackers who first met on image-board sites like 4chan in the early noughties. 

Though Anonymous holds no particularly strong political affiliations, the decentralised collective has struck a cultural chord for its direct opposition to widespread censorship, government control, and fascist organisations. Comprised of an unknown number of members – known as ‘Anons’ – spanning internationally, Anonymous has performed cyber-attacks on a number of the world’s biggest corporations and government agencies, including the FBI, the CIA, and even the Pentagon. In short, they’ve garnered a rep as the ultimate band of info-warriors and whistle-blowers. 

Over the years, Anonymous’ targets have fallen victim to one of three major exploits. The most common, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), involves directing so much data into a website server that it causes it to crash and go offline. Another key tactic, defacement, will see hacktivists hijack images and graphics on someone else’s site and replace them with their own message. Finally, and easily the most ballsy cyber-attack is doxing. Technically falling under the brackets of cyber-stalking and fraud, this process relates to the theft or destruction of private information using computer viruses.

Recent activity 

Anonymous has always been something of a disruptive force for good… if you dispute that, may I remind you they were named among Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People 2012. Taking up the fight against systemic racism is surely its biggest task to date, but previous high-profile tirades against the Church of Scientology, and the Westboro Baptist Church displays a penchant for reprimanding the intolerant that will serve them well here. 

Late last month, Anonymous posted a video that quickly went viral and grabbed headlines. Within it a masked figure explained in an automated voice that it would be targeting police departments across the US: ‘We will be exposing your many crimes to the world’. 

A matter of days later, the group claimed responsibility for taking down the Minneapolis Police Department’s official website, simultaneously leaking 798 police emails and passwords to the public. Elsewhere, the K-pop stans that flooded pro police hashtags and sent the Dallas PD app into overdrive was also orchestrated by Anons… according to nobody but Anons.

A genuine return, or social media stunting? 

Truthfully, what we’re seeing from Anonymous now is a far cry from its heyday outfit that bent Sony, Visa, MasterCard, and PayPal to its will and sabotaged ISIS recruitment programmes, and online paedophile rings. 

It begs the question: is this yet another elaborate social media grandstand for clout?  

Multiple accounts have emerged on Twitter over the last month claiming to be figureheads of the 2020 resurgence, with @YourAnonCentral rocketing from 170,000 followers to over 5 million in less than a week. But researcher Gabriella Coleman has quickly detected and outed the presence of manufactured ‘bot followers’ to reach these numbers. 

More so, the ‘dox’ that brought the hundreds of police emails and passwords online was found to be a generic list that had previously been floating around the cyber underground with no clear trace to the MNPD, or Minneapolis at all. All the signs point to a copy & paste job, not an elaborate scheme from master hackers. 

The website outages could very well be attributed to a DDoS attack from Anonymous, but influxes of K-pop stans are everywhere at the moment fighting for a plethora of different causes, such as the Chilean riots, that Anonymous has no tangible link to. Frustrating as it may be, it appears these Anon accounts are riding the wave of K-pop’s increased visibility to get their message out. 

There has been suggestions that the arrests of top hacktivists James Robinson and Deric Lostunner in 2017 may have taken two of Anonymous’ top talents away, leaving the 2020 batch short on ideas. And they could very well harbour some truth. 

Personally, I believe the accounts on Twitter belong to a few, or perhaps a single opportunist looking to capitalise on people’s desire to become part of the solution. The video posted in May could still be the real deal, but we’ve yet to see anything concrete at this stage. 

I struggle to believe Anonymous has been reduced to this. Only time will tell. 

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