Is Anonymous Dead, or Just Preparing to Rise Again?


The hacker collective Anonymous and its factions LulzSec and AntiSec drew widespread attention between 2008 and 2012 as they tore loudly through the internet ruthlessly hacking websites, raiding email spools, exposing corporate secrets and joining the fight of the 99 percent. The groups seemed unstoppable as they hit one target after another, more than 200 in all by the government’s count. It seemed no one was beyond their grasp.

But then all went quiet.

The group was undone in part by Hector Xavier Monsegur, an Anonymous leader and government informant known online by the nom de hack Sabu, who was arrested in 2011 and quickly turned against his cohorts, helping the government arrest several key members in 2011 and 2012. Since then, aside from a couple of recent actions by Anonymous, such as Operation Last Resort, which targeted the U.S. Sentencing Commission and MIT websites to protest the unusually harsh prosecution of internet activist Aaron Swartz, and the recent leak of documents taken from Brazil’s Foreign Ministry, Anonymous has gone silent for the most part.

Those who have followed the movement closely say Sabu’s role in the arrest of Jeremy Hammond and others has had a chilling effect on Anonymous, causing members to lay low and worry if additional informants are lurking among them. But experts also warn that the sporadic nature of Anonymous activities is inherent in its makeup, and the group can be easily reconstituted and revitalized in an instant.

“It may never come back, but I wouldn’t count on it,” says Mark Rasch a former federal cybercrimes prosecutor and now chief privacy officer at SAIC. “Don’t throw away your Guy Fawkes masks just yet.”

Anonymous, he notes, is like a flash mob: It appears suddenly, acts quickly, then disappears. As long as the movement can attract new members, the arrests of former ones will have little affect on its survival.

“It’s not like you throw them in jail and they disappear,” he says. “It’s sort of like squeezing Jell-O. It just moves somewhere else.”

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