Anonymous is not a force to be reckoned with. Scientologists have felt their wrath for sometime, Sarah Palin did as well, as have MasterCard & Visa post-Wikileaks fiasco. I’m sure Aaron Barr is now realizing the impact Anon has. Aaron Barr is head of an internet security company, HBGary Federal. His company was contracted by Bank of America as a counter Wikileaks impending release of cables that will incriminate BofA.
Ars Technica has written up a 3 page account of the situation, which is absolutely fascinating. The tl;dr seems like its comes straight out of a B movie. Aaron’s ingenious plan was to ‘infiltrate’ Anon…He joined IRC channels in an attempt to sabotage Anon and get names of those in the organization.
His problems started here. Aaron failed to realize Anon is not a true organization. At its core, Anon is an anti-organization, as anarchist as you can be, with no leadership and an ever-changing membership. Aside from infiltrating the chat groups, Aaron attempted to flesh out members of Anon via a guilt-by-association method using something akin to 6-degrees-of-separation and social media. He revealed himself to the group, claiming to research them.
What ended up completely backfired on Aaron. Anon was pissed. In traditional hacking manner, they hacked his company’s site and replaced the front page. They also managed to get a hold of at least 44,000 of his emails and release them via torrents. They deleted 1 TB of his backups, wiped his devices and to top it all of, got a hold of his Twitter and LinkedIn accounts where they posted messages as him. For a company that was in the midst of a sale, Anon effectively ruined that.
This leads me to a open up a discussion regarding the Anthropology of Hackers, a timely piece that appeared in the Atlantic yesterday by NYU’s Gabriella Coleman. In her write up she outlines her 13 week curriculum on the culture of hacking, covering topics like open source, privacy & anonymity, and the dawn of the nerds. Ironically, almost all are relavent to HBGary Federal, given Aaron’s troubles. I wonder how they’d benefit from a crash course in Coleman’s class. Looking at Coleman’s course topics, there’s a lot to consider regarding hacking. The most relevant to this topic is the material covered in Weeks 11 & 12,
Week Eleven: Anarchism and the Politically Minded Hacker
Many hackers express some degree of ambivalence over the politics of hacking as Patrice Riemens has argued and as hackers themselves have raised. This is not the case with a small but well organized cadre of hackers located primarily in Latin America, Europe, and North America who havecharted collectives, many of them influenced by the political philosophy of anarchism. To grapple with anarchism as a political philosophy (which, similar to hacking, is plagued with a parade of misconceptions), we turn to David Graeber‘s fantastic pamphlet, Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. We also read Jeff Juris’s ethnographic work about technology activists during the counter-globalization era Networking Futures.
Week Twelve: Trolls and the Politics of Spectacle
If anyone has been paying attention to the Internet in recent years, it has been impossible to miss a class of provocateur and saboteur: the Internet troll, whose raison d’être is to be as offensive as humanely possible via raunchy (but often humorous and quite esoteric) language, images, pranks, and tricks, basically, doing it for what they call the “lulz.” To get a sense of the cultural logic and exploits of trolls we read “The Trolls Among Us” by Mattathias Schwartz. To help us grapple with the nature of spectacle, we read a couple of chapters of Dream: Re-imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy by Stephen Duncombe. We read excerpts from Lewis Hyde’s magnificent book on tricksters to consider whether the troll might be an example of these mythical creatures that have dazzled countless societies with their trickery. We watch a talk on a protest movement against the Church of Scientology whose roots lie in the act of trolling buteventually turned into a morally serious protest movement, which nonetheless retained the tactics of spectacle as part of its political arsenal.
This is a very interesting time to be looking at the intersection of technology and culture. There are anthropologists doing some fascinating work researching the sense of identity in online communities like World of Warcraft and Facebook… These groups share an online space, often with avatars and complex long-lasting interactions.
But with Anon there’s no identity.
Anon remains behind ever-changing screen names and masked localities behind proxies. I’m sure if you’ve ever taken an Intro to Cultural Anthropology course you would have touched on Erik Erikson’s theories of personality, We know what defines identity is a loose association of markers like behavior, language, dress, shared spaces, etc. Anon is disparate to any modern definition of identity. They do not share the same space, language, or any other measure of similarity except for behavior and ideology…
“We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.”
I’d really like to get to hear Coleman’s take on this current event, or any cultural anthropologist for the matter. So if you’re interested, please chime in on your take on this all — What do you understand on Anon and how are they similar/dissimilar to other groups?