As the war in Ukraine goes into its third week, it’s difficult, let’s face it, to see any chinks of light; but there are many ways of fighting back, and Anonymous has stepped up to the plate in their own way.
As the Russian dictator doubles down and starts using the same tactics his soldiers used in Aleppo and elsewhere, as the wave of Ukrainian women and children fleeing terror, death and destruction carries on, and as reports emerge of hospitals and kindergartens being bombed along with everything else, any good news is welcome.
On 24th February Anonymous left a message on Twitter stating: “The Anonymous cyber collective is officially at war with Russia”. And so it began. Since then the group have hacked Russian state TV channels, replacing their programming with Ukrainian patriotic songs and images from the war, as well as hacking into the Russian Ministry of Defence. And that’s only the stuff we’ve heard about.
At the same time, other digital freedom fighters are taking part in the pushback against the Russian regime: from a man tracking the private jets of both Putin and of the Russian oligarchs connected to him; as well as the tracking of the movement of their superyachts. Meanwhile Elon Musk has made sure that Ukraine’s internet stays up despite Russian efforts to bomb broadcasting towers and the like, using his Starlink system.
Added to that, Twitter has just launched a Tor browser “.onion” version of itself, to enable people in Russian to access its platform even after the Russian government has done its best to limit or completely take down sites including Facebook and Twitter.
The BBC responded in its own dear Auntie Beeb analogue way, by starting to broadcast four hours of news each day through a shortwave frequency.
The hacker collective known as Anonymous has been a thorn in the side for various governments and organisations over the years. Although the organisation suffered some heavy setbacks when their leading lights were found and arrested a few years ago, the nature of Anonymous means that it can carry on anyway. And we think that’s a good thing.
Anonymous started up in the late zeroes on the chat boards of 4chan, where hackers got together and used the Anonymous collective to orchestrate mainly DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service, or bombing a site with a zillion requests in order to shut it down) attacks against various websites, with their focus being having fun – or doing it for the lulz.
Part of the initial group of anonymous hackers set up a splinter group known as LulzSec, who were eventually identified and arrested by the FBI: they managed to find one of the six members of Lulzsec, sentenced him to 124 years in prison, and through this convinced him to turn, and help them to find and bring down the other members. Which he duly did.
End of Lulzsec (and since then, the members, having finished their jail sentences etc., have mostly gone on to work as white hat hackers and computer security operators. In fact Facebook bought a company that was one of the first pioneers of smart contracts called Chainspace – and Chainspace was set up by one of Lulzsec’s six members, known back in the day as T-flow).
Meanwhile this large, anonymous collective split into two parts: those who wanted to carry on focusing on pranks and having fun, and the others who wanted to go in the direction of hacktivism.
And in fact before this hacktivist section of Anonymous declared war on the Putin regime, it has inflicted a lot of pain on a whole ton of governments and organisations that they didn’t feel were living up to generally accepted moral values: they hit the Church of Scientology hard; they hacked a ton of Chinese government and state media sites; they took down various homophobic sites, including that of a Baptist preacher who proclaimed “God Hates Fags”; they conducted a cyberwarfare attack against Israel for its military incursion into the Gaza Strip; they got involved in the Arab Spring…the list goes on.
While it’s true that in the past critics have accused Anonymous of “cyber-bullying”, and their open war in earlier years against any and all forms of copyright is something you can be on either side of the fence on, there’s something heartwarming and inspiring about the possibility of the little person still being able to anonymously hook up with a collective that has no one leader, and make their presence, and their umbrage, be felt across the world.
As Anonymous likes to say:
Featured image by Tarik Haiga via Unsplash.com