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'Anonymous' Hacker Group Teaches Shady Cyber-Security Companies a Lesson They'll Never Forget

An apparent coalition of hackers is hitting targets with surprising speed and accuracy -- and it looks like it's just the beginning.

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That categorical denial rings hollow, given  Bank of America's itinerant controversy, which includes inhaling bailout billions in taxpayer cash, purchasing toxic mortgage scammers like  Countrywide Financial, nailing loyal customers with skyrocketing interest rates, robosigning foreclosures and even shutting down payment transfers to Wikileaks, lamely claiming "reasonable belief that WikiLeaks may be engaged in activities that are, among other things, inconsistent with our internal policies for processing payments." Add it together with the shady "competitive intelligence" practices of the  Chamber of Commerce -- which solicited Palantir, Berico and HBGary to scrape the Internet for personal data on Chamber opponents like  Brad Blog, Change to Win, CodePink and others -- and what is immediately apparent is that all of the included parties are sorry for mostly one thing: Getting caught with their pants down. 

Rebels Without a Central Nervous System 

"Anonymous, in addition to being responsible for 90% of all quotes ever cited, is the source of 91% of all Internet truth and justice," the Wikipedia goof  Encyclopedia Dramatica explains of the hacker collective that brought Palantir, Berico and HBGary's plan to a screeching halt. A self-aware exaggeration to be sure, but there is some truth to Anonymous' brand of Internet justice. Since roughly 2006, the loosely associated transparency coalition has variously pranked and outed the Church of Scientology, white supremacist and FBI informant Hal Turner, alleged internet sexual predator Chris Forcand, KISS bassist Gene Simmons and more in the U.S. alone. Abroad, it combated online censorship efforts in Iran and Australia, and even assisted in levying denial-of-service attacks against government Web sites in Tunisia, Zimbabwe and even Egypt.  

Those are some of their more well-meaning Internet revolutions, But the coalition has its dark side.  Anonymous has claimed responsibility for plastering racist and fascist imagery across the home pages of sites like AllHipHop.com and the social networking site Habbo. Anonymous even flooded YouTube children's videos with porn, and reportedly leaked personal information of a California teen who managed a site called the No Cussing Club. True responsibility for these attacks and others are hard to pin down, given Anonymous' diaphanous identity, but that too is part of the plan. As HBGary, Palantir and Berico found out the hard way, it's nearly impossible to "pwn" decentralized international cells of Internet smartasses that lack a central nervous system. Like the Internet itself, Anonymous is a sprawling webwork of sometimes aligned and chaotic desires and ideologies. Shutting it down would be like shutting down the Internet itself. 

So like the similarly ascendant Wikileaks which it openly supports, Anonymous' time has come. When Bank of America, PayPal, Mastercard, Visa and other corporations stopped servicing Wikileaks, Anonymous retaliated by attacking their Web sites. Its  members often wear creepy Guy Fawkes masks, perhaps more to honor Alan Moore's visionary dystopian comic V For Vendetta than Fawkes himself, whose planned and failed Gunpowder Plot aimed to assassinate King James the First. (In Moore's comic, the mysterious masked revolutionary V takes down an Orwellian regime that, from its total surveillance to its propaganda media to its craven political class that willingly turns prisoners into genetic and social experiments, looks a lot like ours. In fact, one of V's first victims is a raving talking head that could easily serve as the predecessor to Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly of Fox News, the oxymoronically named organization whose whistleblowing insider recently called Rupert Murdoch's controversial disinformation peddler a " Stalin-esque mouthpiece for Bush.")

Regardless of their outward appearances and deliberately scattered composition, Anonymous has, accidentally and otherwise, recently transformed from an imageboard prankster to an  online Robin Hood combating the monolithic forces of geopolitics and mass media. Which is high irony considering my Wired colleague Ryan Singel once called its members "supremely bored 15-year olds." With killer coding and computer skills, he should have added, that leave so-called professional organizations like HBGary, Palantir and Berico, as well as capitalist powerhouses Bank of America, fumbling over their torpedoed stratagems and half-hearted apologies. No wonder Fox News called Anonymous an "Internet Hate Machine," and went so far as to imply that its  recent acquisition of the widely available Windows worm  Stuxnet -- which it funnily enough found in HBGary's drives, according to  Anonymous member Topiary -- could wreak havoc on something, anything. (Forgetting to mention, of course, that Stuxnet was likely developed by Israel to destabilize Iran's nuclear capabilities.)

 
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