For the past decade or so, superhero movies have been all the rage in pop culture dominating the movie scene from Spiderman to Batman. However, despite superheroes occupying so many people’s imaginations, we’ve never really seen anybody actually don a mask and cape and go out on the streets to enact vigilante justice on criminals. Such an attempt would probably end in death very quickly. However, there is one particular group that is perhaps the closest realization of what a superhero vigilante group like the Avengers could look like. This group has been around for over a decade and has made significant news for over a decade. They are a secret group that takes matters into their own hands and claims to have no allegiance to a particular government, corporation, or political party. This group takes matters into its own hands by conducting cyber-attacks against people and organizations that its members consider unjust. Members of this group, like superheroes, wear masks in videos where they claim responsibility for significant cyber-attacks, keeping their identities secret and making a show of it. This controversial group is known as Anonymous, and they are loved and feared by many people and organizations worldwide.
Anonymous takes much of its inspiration from the historical figure Guy Fawkes, a man who tried to blow up the English House of Parliament in 1605. His gunpowder plot ultimately failed as he ended up being captured, tortured, and executed. Yet the remembrance of his challenge to the monarchy of England lives in many history books to this day. In 2005, the movie V for Vendetta featured a dystopian England in which a mysterious character donned a Guy Fawkes mask and performed acts of terror targeting the authoritarian government. The controversial movie was an inspirational hit, as many people were drawn to the movie’s protagonist. One of the most famous quotes from the movie is “People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.” This attitude heavily influences the group, Anonymous which uses V for Vendetta’s Guy Fawkes mask as their main symbol. Many videos by Anonymous feature a person wearing the mask and talking in a robot voice to conceal their identity as they claim responsibility for cyber-attacks.
Although Anonymous draws inspiration from V for Vendetta, the organization dates back to 2003, two years before the movie was released. The group, however, didn’t make big headlines until 2008, when it attacked the Church of Scientology by flooding its servers with fake data requests. A video later emerged of Anonymous claiming responsibility for the attack and stating that Anonymous’s intentions were to utterly destroy the Church of Scientology “for the good of your followers, for the good of mankind, and for our own enjoyment.” The attack caused serious harm to the Church of Scientology.
The attacks continued. One of the next noteworthy incidents concerning Anonymous came in 2010 when Anonymous hacked PayPal for refusing to process WikiLeaks payments. Anonymous was able to shut down a large number of services for its customers costing the company millions of dollars. One of the next noteworthy incidents concerning Anonymous happened in 2011 during the Arab Spring in which the ruling National Democratic Party of Egypt was being deposed. Anonymous hacked the government websites and took them offline until, finally, President Hosni Mubarak stepped down. In 2016 Anonymous went after the terrorist organization ISIS, largely in response to their attacks on Paris in 2015. Anonymous hacked and took over their social media accounts preventing them from spreading their propaganda.
Anonymous is still running strong to this day. Their most recent and present activity has been in the war between Russia and Ukraine. So much of the war already has been conducted via cyber warfare by both Russia and Ukraine. Russian hackers have made many efforts to knock out Ukrainian infrastructure while also hacking European countries and the United States in response to the economic sanctions being imposed. On the other hand, President Zelensky of Ukraine has called upon hackers all around the world to join the fight against Russia. This, as you can guess, has drawn the likes of Anonymous to the fight.
Since the very first days of the invasion in February, Anonymous has been conducting attacks on Russia. One of their first moves was hacking into a Russian Center for the Protection of Monuments website and defacing pictures with Ukrainian flags supporting Ukraine’s independence. This signaled that Anonymous would be fighting against Russia over the conflict. Anonymous is also believed to have hacked several Russian state TV channels attempting to silence propaganda. Anonymous hackers have also gotten ahold of Russian military documents and leaked them to the public giving Ukraine more of an edge in the fight. It has been reported that more than 2,500 Russian and Belarusian agencies, state media outlets, and banks have been hacked by Anonymous and the attacks are likely to continue.
As the world continues to move more online it seems likely that Anonymous and groups like it will continue to be historically relevant to the world stage. The war in Ukraine has so far proven to be a much different war than we have ever seen given the large hand that cyber warfare has played in the crisis. Cyberwarfare is likely to continue and groups like Anonymous are likely to find roles in future wars. One interesting thing about Anonymous is that members of the organization come in lots of different colors. Some are conservatives, some are liberals, some are religious, and some are non-religious. Therefore, it isn’t easy to know how the organization will react to future events. At the very least, we can expect them.