Can Anonymous evolve into something bigger?

Can Anonymous evolve into something bigger?

Summary: Anonymous Australia's recent emphasis to not perform DDoS attacks and remove personal information from dumps is a far cry from its previous behaviour, so does it signal that the group is becoming more mature?

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commentary Watching members of Anonymous talk among themselves can sometimes be a little bit painful. There's sometimes misinformation, trolling, fools that walk in to a conversation looking to cause trouble, and a carnival-style chaos that, to the average bystander, doesn't make much sense.

But during the theft of AAPT's data, the Australian branch of Anonymous had a few subtle differences. One was that more senior members of the group had a very strong stance against the leak of personal information. They also kept warmongering anons — those constantly asking for a target — in their place, by telling them that they would not launch distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. It's worth remembering, up front, that what Anonymous did was illegal and they didn't even completely remove all personal information (dates of birth were still present) from the data, but it does give one hope that Anonymous might actually be evolving.

The group did, for example, start to consider whether they could write a submission in response to the Attorney-General's proposal on data retention legislation. For a group that often (and sometimes incorrectly) earns the reputation of being a bunch of script kiddies, a submission is a rather mature and a legitimate way of getting its voice heard, even when it has obviously lost faith in the process of government.

The one thing I can say for Anonymous is that there is, at least, a motivation to do something about an issue. Most individuals I know aren't aware of the data retention debate. Furthermore, of those that are, the majority have yet to do anything about it, even if they feel very strongly in one way or another.

In some ways, Anonymous' motivation is even admirable, considering that so many hacktivists have been arrested in recent times. It begins to make me wonder what the group could really do, legally, if it was willing to withstand the risk of prosecution.

Of course, one could argue that I'm thinking too highly of Anonymous — and they might be right. Anonymous might only be in it solely for the "lulz", with the political reasons there just to provide a thin veil of legitimacy. They may have simply stumbled into AAPT's data, and attempted to turn it into an argument against data retention legislation. They also (jokingly?) threatened to flame me after I filed a news article which quoted someone's negative opinion of them, an act of censorship that seems to counter their views of a free internet.

But they did bring the issue of security to the forefront of people's minds that week. System administrators in Optus, iiNet and Telstra, in particular, were no doubt furiously checking to make sure it wasn't them. And they have, in the past, delivered a sense of justice by tracking down paedophiles and child abusers who use the same anonymity of the internet to hide — an issue even the Australian Federal Police struggles with when trying to do it the "right" way.

They also appear to be learning that they aren't alone on their cause. A few years ago, I wouldn't have expected them to have taken an interest in Electronic Frontiers Australia, urge others to tune in to debates on national television about the issue or to sign GetUp's petition, yet this is what their chaotic conversations have sometimes turned to. The Anonymous from years ago would, more likely, be focusing on how to launch a DDoS attack or gather more supporters.

The group hasn't gone completely goody-two-shoes, and I doubt this marks the end of the "lulz" we've grown accustomed to, but these more mature acts give hope that the group could evolve into something more than it currently is. It does, after all, leave one wondering how much more they could accomplish if they started playing politicians at their own game, by keeping it legal and, in effect, become a democracy of the internet.

Topics: Security, Government, Government AU

Michael Lee

About Michael Lee

A Sydney, Australia-based journalist, Michael Lee covers a gamut of news in the technology space including information security, state Government initiatives, and local startups.

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4 comments
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  • It depends on the character of the people behind it.

    The old adage "Guns don't kill, people do" is very true. Many have guns that have never used them on any living thing.

    If they really were of decent character, they wouldn't be using their experience screwing with people's lives by posting stolen personal info on the web.

    As many people have the same skills and access to programs that they do, but don't break into websites stealing info and posting it on the web.
    William Farrel
  • It depends on the character of the people behind it.

    The old adage "Guns don't kill, people do" is very true. Many have guns that have never used them on any living thing.

    If they really were of decent character, they wouldn't be using their experience screwing with people's lives by posting stolen personal info on the web.

    As many people have the same skills and access to programs that they do, but don't break into websites stealing info and posting it on the web.
    William Farrel
  • stateless governance

    Since 1995 (to my knowledge) there have been serious discussions as to how the Web could effect stateless governance. Anonymous is an experiment. Lulz is an experiment. In that sense they are no different than the "Arab Spring" or the American Revolution. "Maturity" is a false metric. Effectiveness and relevance count far more.
    gabriel bear
  • Evolution of Anonymous

    I've always believed in the core purpose of Anonymous: digital justice and freedom. Freedom, because people should not have to be wary of being observed and judged of their actions, but also justice, because people should not equally be allowed to pursue quite illegal activities online.

    I guess their modus operandi is a bit of a Catch-22: People and information should be free, but you can't let them do as they please.

    However, like any large organisation, there will always be rogues among their ranks. For example, prior to the Facebook takedown announcement the other year, many of the higher ups were alleged to show disapproval to the operation. It was announced by a smaller group, without the "political" backing of its leaders. Suffice it to say, it was never followed through (that I'm aware of).

    I don't have the skills to assist in their work. But while their group continues to choose to do the right thing, I'll quietly cheer their work on. If the organisation as a whole should taint their ideals... then count me out.
    dmh_paul