‘War is declared’, hackers tell Islamic State

Behind the mask: Anonymous expressed ‘sorrow and solidarity’ with Paris’s victims. © Anonymous

Anonymous, the hacking collective which has fought governments worldwide, is attempting to destroy Islamic State online. Should we celebrate or fear the crowd which takes charge?

‘We are Anonymous. we do not forgive, we do not forget. Expect us.’

The computer-generated voice from the mysterious group Anonymous had previously warned governments around the world. But now it was speaking to the group those governments feared most: Islamic State.

Anonymous initially declared ‘war’ on Islamist terrorists in January, after the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo and other killings in Paris by terrorists affiliated to al-Qaeda in the Yemen and to IS. Anonymous have since seized control of or flagged social media accounts, and overwhelmed websites with traffic. Before the Paris attacks of 13 November, Anonymous had brought down 149 websites, flagged over 100,000 Twitter accounts and reported 5,000 propaganda videos.

In a new video released after the attacks, they promised to intensify their action ‘to defend our values and our freedom’ and warned IS: ‘Expect massive cyberattacks. War is declared. Get prepared’. They encouraged followers to join in and released a guide to help enthusiastic beginners to hack IS accounts.

‘This violence should not weaken us,’ they said. ‘It has to give us the strength to come together and fight tyranny and obscurantism together.’ Within days, they had taken down 20,000 more Twitter accounts.

But reports suggest much of their action is not affecting Islamic State. A list of about 4,000 of the accounts they had targeted since Paris included some attributed to Palestinians, Kurds, Iranians and Chechens, as well as some which had ‘trolled’ Islamic State or were merely written in Arabic.

Anonymous gained attention during the mid-2000s, when it launched a series of random, apolitical hacking attacks. It has since fought for a free and open internet, particularly through its effort in support of Wikileaks; aided protests including Occupy, the Arab Spring and the democratic movement in Hong Kong; worked to expose the CIA and Interpol; and launched campaigns against the Burmese government and the Ku Klux Klan.

Anon anon

What a great idea, say some. Never mind the politicians who engage in largely futile discussions and cynical grandstanding; ordinary people are the ones who will beat Islamic State. Anonymous’s action is a reminder of the power we all have to stand up for something good — without needing anyone’s instructions.

Nonsense, respond others; this fight will require technological apparatus and organisational skills which only states can provide. Anonymous are the online equivalent of a lynch mob: a ragtag bunch of internet warriors who will obstruct professionals, create fear and endanger meaningful efforts to track and hunt down Islamic State’s killers. They should be shunned, not romanticised.

You Decide

  1. Would you want to take part in Anonymous’s fight against Islamic State if you could?
  2. Could Anonymous defeat Islamic State?

Activities

  1. Write down five questions you would like to ask about Anonymous.
  2. Write a letter to Anonymous’s activists, explaining what they can do to help against Islamic State and what problems they might cause.

Some People Say...

“The people have more power than those who control them.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Am I likely to get hacked?
Hacking happens all the time — a 2014 government survey reported 81% of large businesses had suffered malicious data breaches. On the whole, hackers are keener to target big companies and governments because there is more to find out. But things that are important to you could be of interest — in particular valuable things like bank details. And some hackers have little reason for what they do other than to cause misery.
Can I do anything to stop it?
Brock Kirwan, a professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, says ‘a lot of people don’t realise they are the weakest link in their computer security’. Most computers have strong defences built in, but choices you make — such as ignoring security certificates on websites — are more likely to cause you to be hacked.

Word Watch

Charlie Hebdo
Islamist terrorists from al-Qaeda in the Yemen (a group whose ideology is similar to that of the even more extremist Islamic State — ‘IS’) attacked the offices of the satirical French magazine in January, killing 12. Five more died in an ongoing rampage over the following two days.
Obscurantism
This is the practice of hiding the full facts or truth from someone.
Wikileaks
In 2010, Anonymous launched Operation Payback, targeting the online payment system PayPal. PayPal was among those who refused to process payments to Wikileaks, a website where a wide range of secret documents were published. Anonymous also attacked companies including MasterCard for the same reason.
Occupy
Anonymous made a wide-ranging contribution to these protests in 2011. They hacked websites and launched an online campaign designed to quell potential violence, using a Twitter application called URGE which encouraged peaceful protest.
Hong Kong
Pro-democracy protests broke out in Hong Kong in September 2014. Anonymous declared cyber war on the Hong Kong government and police shortly afterwards.

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