ITNow – Hacktivism and Anonymous

The following introduction was originally published in the Information Security section of the BCS ITNow Magazine, Summer 2012 issue (Volume 54, Issue 2), which was on the topic of Hacktivism and Anonymous:

There is a lot more to online activists, such as Anonymous, than the mainstream media would have us believe, says Gareth Niblett, Chair of BCS ISSG.

Just as the media often uses ‘terrorism’ and ‘Al-Qaida’ as shorthand for a broad church of Islamist militants, so too they use ‘hacktivism’ and ‘Anonymous’ to describe a diverse collection of attackers and motives.

This oversimplification means that the true motivations and intents of online vigilantes are not always adequately acknowledged or addressed.

It is too easy to put them in the ‘bad guy’ bucket and overlook well-intentioned, albeit illegal, activities – such as hunting down online sexual predators, exposing authoritarian regimes, protesting greed and corruption, undermining state censorship and so on.

Anonymous affiliated offshoots, such as AnonOps, LulzSec and AntiSec each have different members, objectives and approaches that lead to different types of targets and attacks – some of these are more questionable than others.

As the authorities close in on the more active members of these ‘leaderless’ groups, plenty of others adopt the anonymous concept whether as members of the franchise or simply following in its wake.

Fear of attack

One recent survey of ‘security experts’ concluded that most were concerned about being attacked by Anonymous.

I’m not sure that I’d be most concerned about them, versus say a more subtle state-sponsored long-term infiltration, as although an attack would be embarrassing it would also likely be relatively obvious and possible to quickly assess the impact.

Although I cannot support the illegal actions of Anonymous, I think we should not be too quick in demonising them either because, as in all things relating to human nature, things are often more nuanced than the headlines might lead one to believe.”

A PDF version of the magazine is available online to BCS members at: