The first World Cyberwar continues. Know the revolutionaries of the 21st century.
Words by Marieta Taibo 2012-01-29 18:01:05 | Categories: MAGAZINE
“LAST NIGHT I TRIED TO PUT AN END TO THAT SILENCE. I DESTROYED THE OLD BAILEY to remind this country of what it has forgotten. More than four hundred years ago a great citizen wanted the fifth of November to be engrained in our memory. His hope was to remind the world that justice, equality and liberty are more than just words; they are attainable goals. So, if you do not open your eyes, if you keep your distance from the crimes of this government, then I suggest you are allowing the fifth of November to pass virtually unnoticed. But if you see what I see […] I ask you to join me”. With these words the masked main character in the illustrated novel V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, remembered the figure of Guy Fawkes, an English Catholic who tried to blow up the English Parliament, to put an end to religious persecution, in what became known as ‘The Gunpowder Plot’. The character died achieving what Fawkes could not do in 1605, but as the hero put it so well: “Although the man dies the ideals always live on.” And the new revolutionaries of the 21st century, Anonymous, have seized on them. It looks like fiction has turned into reality, and in a big way.
But, what is Anonymous? How does it work? What is it trying to achieve? Who is behind the frontal attacks against companies such as Visa and PayPal? These questions do not have a single answer. To start with, it is fundamental to understand the thinking and origins of this group. Most of them symbolically hide their faces behind the mask of the V character and, above all, behind the screens of their computers, their work tools, the medium for their ideals and the weapon with which they intend to change the world. “Some academics have defined them as the first super-conscience of the Internet. Their initial fears had a less political character than they do now,” says Raúl Magallón, professor of communication studies at the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid. For his part, David Montero, director of the ethical hacking company, iSoluciones, describes it as “a cultural movement, hacktivist, and a way of expressing social discontent”. Indeed, the majority of them are hackers, but anyone who agrees with their ideals could be one of them: “There is no clear profile, whoever wants to can join up. It is known that there are people with a lot of knowledge about IT and others with less, from different social classes, from all over the world,” declares Montero. What’s more, it is a horizontal organization. There are no leaders and all their decisions are taken by consensus: the one who tries to stand out is attacked by the organization itself.
_THE ORIGIN OF MOVEMENT
We can find the roots of this movement in 4chan, a forum set up in 2003 to discuss underground topics and to post images anonymously. Initially its members carried out some low-scale attacks on webs and spams. However, two years later a specific event lit their fuse. A swimming pool in California prohibited the entry of a boy because he was HIV positive. They posted what happened on Habbo Hotel as a way of protesting and, following its success, started to organize themselves by creating forums and communicating between themselves via chats. There they started their war against the system with notorious operations against the Church of Scientology, numerous state bodies such as the Government of Tunisia -blocking eight of their official websites-, the Senate of Colombia -to protest against the Lleras Act against piracy- and the IT security company HBGary Federal. The latter was attacked after its director, Aaron Barr, announced that it had infiltrated the group. In response, Anonymous took control of the company’s servers, eliminating important files, publishing confidential emails and bringing to light personal details about the director.
Other multinational corporations such as Visa, MasterCard and PayPal have also been their targets. Their websites were knocked out for a day in revenge for the financial blocks on WikiLeaks after the organization disseminated compromising data about various governments, in particular that of the US. For Anonymous, Julian Assange, the creator of WikiLeaks, is an example to follow. As a matter of fact, the admiration is reciprocal, as the Australian covered his face with one of the V masks at a demonstration in London: “He is a great reference point, being a pioneer in disclosing information. He has really stood up to the world, even though it is costing him his freedom. His work is fundamental; society needs transparency”, state the activists.
X, a Spanish member of Anonymous, has participated in some of these operations. After much effort, we managed to speak with him. Getting through to them is complicated. On occasions they see themselves as badly treated by the press, which explains their hermitism. After several weeks interacting directly through their channels, and after seeing that none of them wanted to speak, in the end X decided to communicate with us, attracted by the independent stance of the magazine and making it clear that he is not a spokesperson for the movement. Before meeting I tried to imagine what he would look like, and when he was in front of me I could state (as they themselves do) that Anonymous can be anyone. This IT specialist joined up two years ago: “I found out about them through forums and discovered that their objectives were very attractive. I soon started to participate in the Tunisia operations.” He and his companions gave voice to the people of that country and of Egypt by attacking the web pages of their governments and manipulating their home pages with irreverent phrases and drawings: “We wanted to let them know that we were supporting them from outside.”
But Anonymous doesn’t only defend liberty in the Internet. The activist assured us that one of the great blemishes in this world is with patents. “They should not exist. They think that all we want to do is download music and films, but the subject goes beyond that. We are asking for the best education of the first world to be delivered to the most hidden corners of Africa and that everyone should have access to the most innovative of medicines”.
In Spain the collective became more visible through the contentious Sinde Act, which would have allowed the closure of webs with links to contents without recourse to the courts, as in the case of popular sites such as ‘Películasyonkis.com’ or ‘Thepiratebay.org’. Their way of protesting was to carry out DDoS attacks [numerous simultaneous attacks with the aim of saturating an IT service] on the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), the Congress and the Ministry of Culture. This form of protest was also used during the great gala night for Spanish cinema, the Premios Goya awards, when they collapsed the Spanish cinema academy website and booed in the street, dressed in the mythical masks of Guy Fawkes. This mask has become a real symbol of the movement that indirectly has enabled the company Time Warner, owner of the rights, to make 28 billion dollars last year from its sales. “It is shameful that a company like Time Warner should make such profits from anti-corporate protests”, says Alan Moore, co-creator of the V character with illustrator David Lloyd.
_THE BATTLE IN LATIN AMERICA
The reason why Anonymous has gained strength in recent times can be found in the social discontent that is being experienced in western civilization. In Spain it is intimately related with the 15-M movement, with which it shares similar ideas: “Their philosophy is anti-capitalism. They want to be a part of the end to this system, or at least of its crises”, says Gerardo González, a researcher for ECOSUR (Mexico). The same sensation of disenchantment can be found in Latin America. The organization is very active there, especially in Mexico. ‘Operation Tequila’, which began in the country, signified a before and an after in ‘social hacktivism’. “It was a dawning, a wake up call in life… the moment at which we realized that there was a future in this”, say members of ‘Anon’ [the nickname of Anonymous]. Its great battle is in combating the drugs trafficking that is massacring the population: “We are against crime and are trying to sabotage those sites that are filled with lies, morbidity and corruption”, relates a member of sector 404, a branch of the movement in Mexico. In fact, it is costing them dearly to face up to these criminals. Following the kidnapping of one of their members they had to abort an operation with which they hoped to reveal the names of politicians, journalists, and civil servants who collaborate with the drugs cartels. In the end, the young guy was freed, but the threat of death follows them like their shadows. “Of course we are afraid, but we will keep fighting to finish off those who threaten the lives and the security of innocent people. I don’t understand why we are treated like criminals”. The fear does not close their mouths. Now they are immersed in ‘Operación Carretera Segura’ (Operation Safe Road) with which they are urging politicians to take measures to safeguard the security of passengers on Mexican buses, who are frequently attacked on their journeys and kidnapped by organized crime gangs.
The fact that it’s such a heterogeneous movement has led to other groups emerging from its body. Although they share its ideas, they have different structures. That is the case with ‘Anonymous CiberacTTack’, a group of Chilean hackers who for the first time have spoken to the Spanish media. They have taken part in operations such as ‘Maleducados’ (bad mannered), against the student repression in Chile, and ‘Andes libres’ (free Andes), boycotting the web pages of the Chilean government after it announced its intentions to control the social networks. But they don’t see themselves as 100 per cent Anonymous. “We work as teams and have a leader for questions of coordination,” says Máximo, one of its members. They even go so far as to say there are people of power within their ranks: “It’s clear. Hacking as it is known is a farce. If it were not for the fact that we have people who have been infiltrated and with privileges we could not gain access to certain sites”.
These hackers feel that their methods are justified and are proud of having helped. “The corrupt, paedophiles and traffickers know that there are people who dare to fight against them, although for doing so they brand us as ‘cyber terrorists’ or want to carry us off to jail for denouncing the rubbish that many of them try to sweep under the carpet”. The fact that the powers that be dismiss them as delinquents gets people interested in them. There’s a reason why last year ‘Anonymous’ was one of the most searched terms on the Internet in the world. “The dominant elites get frightened at seeing themselves wrapped up in a cybernetic attack and try to exorcize that danger by branding them as terrorists”, says Telesforo Nava, a specialist in social movements at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in Mexico.
In spite of having helped to break up a child pornography network, denouncing cruelty to animals, of trying to help the most disadvantaged, the security forces are very close on their trail. As a matter of fact, in Spain the National Police announced the “dismantling of their ?leadership,” a fact that provoked widespread ridicule: “What leaders, if none exist? They are very confused,” says X. For its part, the Technological Investigation Brigade declined to make any declaration on the subject because, according to their spokesperson, “the matter is in the courts.” What is certain is that their actions are set out under the penal code and are punishable with jail.
However, this persecution doesn’t put a brake on their advance. With this new year there will be more Anonymous: “Wall Street, the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) in the States, Syria and (Spain’s) Sinde Act,” says X. As for the future, he assures us that the cyber war will continue: “The great achievements of mankind have been achieved by fighting for them. We want to awaken the conscience of people and that is done through education. But it is still badly focused and it seems that the only solution is to blow it all up and rebuild it. Fighting for a better world is good and possible, you only have to want to do it. We are a legion. We don’t forget, give no pardon. Wait for us.”