Notorious hacker collective Anonymous -- well, a part of it, at least -- showed China what it was made of yesterday by making a teenage wasteland out of several prominent websites based in the country.
This is not the first time a branch of Anonymous has taken aim at a Chinese target. In September, an offshoot of the group dedicated to exposing corporate fraud, Anonymous Analytics, released a document accusing Chinese fruit and vegetable producer Chaoda Modern Agriculture (Holdings) Ltd. of “deceit and open corporate fraud.”
We can make much of the fraught U.S.-China relationship as it pertains to politics, economics and industry, but what struck me about this event is that, much like the U.S. war in Afghanistan, it's not a simple battle between two sides. There are more actors, and interests, operating on the battlefield than first appear.
Hackers have always operated in their own interest, but what makes Anonymous compelling is that it's a collective with occasionally unified execution (though, like anyone's personal preferences, the mission remains murky) and access to technology that puts it -- somewhat -- on equal footing with its biggest targets. At the end of the day, it's all zeroes and ones, isn't it?
So it's interesting to see private companies and governments react to Anonymous' activities. The U.S. was the victim just 1.5 months ago, and now its largest (economically speaking) antagonist plays the part this week. Plenty of companies, from Sony to Stratfor, have also felt the pain.
The New York Times touched on the enterprise impact a month ago:
The head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert Mueller, struck an ominous note about the threat of digital attacks on corporate America. “There are only two types of companies,” Mr. Mueller said in a keynote speech at the conference, “those that have been hacked and those that will be.”
If you have something to hide, at least. No man is an island.
Wired once called them "the new model for civil disobedience across the globe"; in another post, a group of tricksters who revel in contradiction and hypocrisy. They break the letter of the law with abandon, but rarely its spirit. The message tucked in its latest attacks is rather altruistic: serve others, not yourself.
Like the weather, at some point everyone will despise or cheer Anonymous. It will only depend on the day.