With members leaving, is this the beginning of the end for Anonymous?

Opinion by Dan Raywood

The Anonymous movement has come under fire from its own members this week, as at least four members have publicly criticised its recent actions.

The Anonymous movement has come under fire from its own members this week, as at least four members have publicly criticised its recent actions.

At the start of this week, a former Anonymous member known as ‘SparkyBlaze' publicly left the movement and criticised the recent actions, saying that when he started out he thought he was helping people, but over the past few months things inside Anonymous had changed.

This was followed by a Twitter tirade by another member who called himself JohnDoeJKM, who also spoke out against Anonymous actions against the public. He also criticised the merger with LulzSec for removing the option to collectively decide on targets and said that Anonymous ‘is fractured and wild with no focus or direction'.

A statement appeared from a member from Nigeria, who identified himself as ‘SanDel' and admitted hacking into the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria and launching a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack against the Aero Contractors, Air Nigeria and Arik.

However he said that when people got arrested, the Anonymous leadership did nothing. He said: “To other Anonymous members I recommended that you quit. You are not doing anything that can make a change. The best is to contact your politicians and make a change.”

In a letter to Anonymous from someone simply signing off as ‘anonymous', it said that ‘lately something has been wrong', in particular targeting members of the public. 

It said: “Because of your recent acts you've gone from liberators to terrorist dictators. I'm posting this as a guest because I feel that by simply disagreeing with you, I run a risk of attack.

“You'll never gain popular support in the way that you're going, attacking corporations and releasing customer information makes them blame you, not the corporations. Whoever has told you that this was the logical approach has misled you.”

This member also criticised the ‘OpBART' operations for hacking databases and releasing customer information.

“BART is public transportation for those without transportation, this is the last resort for most people. BART customers may not have a choice but to use BART, so you hurt them further by releasing their personal information like you're a bunch of lowlife scum. This is why you are thought of as cyber terrorists, this is why the people don't follow you,” it said.

Personally I doubt that the public resignation will make much of an impact upon Anonymous. It has continued to insist that it does not have leadership and operates as an umbrella term for global activists to work under.

I spoke with James Lyne, ethical hacker and senior technologist at Sophos, who said that you have to assume that the Anonymous membership ‘is pretty huge'. In terms of members leaving, he said that what may make a difference is the comments from those leaving may ring true with other members.

He said: “What may create a response was what was in the open letter, that the actions of the group infringe on people's privacy that the group was meant to uphold. The actions are moving to human harm and while a massive DDoS against SOCA is not condoned or right, the difference between that and releasing information that harms people who have no idea of the concept of information security is huge.

“There does seem to be a change in the stakes with the actions of the group, but four people will not cause a change, but what will be interesting to see is if the comments have any impact on other members.”

While Anonymous has not officially responded, it did acknowledge that not all members would all support the same cause.

There has been no comment via its AnonOps blog page, but in a tweet, it said: “Some Anons support ‘OpBART', others don't. Some support ‘Antisec', some don't. Some support both, or neither. All valid Anonymous stances.”

Rik Ferguson, certified ethical hacker and director of security and research at Trend Micro, said that Anonymous' PR originally gained public sympathy from the technologically engaged to encourage people to take part in DDoS attacks.

He said: “Although illegal, attacks against high-level targets is some form of a legitimate protest in some eyes, but hacking and releasing the data of innocent users impeding their privacy and putting their identity at risk is a different ball game.

“I have not seen any movement from Anonymous but it is difficult to determine who Anonymous is. With operation Facebook, it was not sanctioned by Anonymous but was done by members, so it seems that there is no control.”

Looking to the future of the movement, Ferguson said that he believed that members may splinter off into different groups in different countries as they feel empowered under the antisec flag.

“It could mean that the current tactic could become the norm and we could see groups with the same common belief but not working under the umbrella of Anonymous,” he said.

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