Who are Anonymous: freedom fighters or criminals?

A mysterious group called Anonymous is staging protests and publicity stunts. Who are they and what do they want?

 

Who are Anonymous?

The logo of hacker activists

The Anonymous logo

To understand Anonymous you only need three words:

Activists, Hackers and Guy Fawkes.

It’s a good thing Scenes of Reason has handy guides on all three. You’re totally welcome. 😉

Anonymous is a global network of activists and hackers. It has members in countries all around the world.

Members are known as “Anons” and hide their identity by wearing Guy Fawkes masks, similar to those worn in the film “V for Vendetta”.

 

We’ll let them explain further in their own words:

 

 

What do they do?

Anonymous first started out on the image website 4chan. Visitors to the site show up as “Anonymous” hence the name.

Anonymous protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks out side the church of Scientology

Anonymous outside the Church of Scientology

4chan users raided and hacked websites including several attacks on social networking site Habbo Hotel. These led to the first media reports on the group.

A common Anonymous tactic is a “denial of service” attack. This crashes a website by sending LOTS of internet traffic its way. Death by spam, basically.

Soon the group started pranks and “operations” in the real world. Anonymous first wore Guy Fawkes masks to protect their identity whilst protesting against  the Church of Scientology.

The church had tried to remove a video about Scientology by serving a legal copyright notice. Anonymous saw this as trying to censor the internet.

The motto commonly associated with Anonymous is: “We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.”

 

What do they believe in?

Anonymous isn’t your regular activist group, compared to a flock of birds;

“How do you know they’re a group? Because they’re travelling in the same direction. At any given moment, more birds could join, leave, peel off in another direction entirely.”

Poster for anonymous campaign Operation Payback

Anonymous campaign poster

According to the group there is a loose command structure in place. However, as there is no official leadership it makes it very hard to link actions to the “group”. Journalist Quinn Norton writes;

“Its wild string of brilliant hacks and protests seemed impossible in the absence of some kind of defined organization.”

It’s even harder to work out what their motives are, or what they want.

Anonymous has been associated with liberal or anti-establishment causes. For anti-establishment think: against the established authority and opposing conventional society.

Many Anonymous videos talk about giving the power back to the people. Anonymous has assisted pro-democracy movements in the Middle East and have taken on big corporations like PayPal.

However for many, taking part in raids would seem to be purely for Lulz. Lulz – plural of Lol (laugh out loud), now used to describe funny internet content.

 

Anti-hero?

Anonymous at the Million Mask March on the London underground

Going underground

Quinn Norton notes that you’re never sure if they are the hero or anti-hero. Parmy Olson wrote a book on Anonymous and mentions that they have done a lot of bad things.

“Unnecessarily harassing people — I would class that as a bad thing. DDOSing [attacking] the CIA website, stealing customer data and posting it online just for shits and giggles is not a good thing.”

If Anonymous wants power for the people how does exposing their private details help? Seems like someone went off message.

Having no clear ideology makes it difficult for Anons to decide what they stand for, and what activity is off-limits.

Disagreements within the group are regular. Like when a small group threatened to take down Facebook, only to be disavowed by the majority of Anonymous. Bit embarrassing.

 

Are Anonymous freedom fighters or criminals?

Anonymous leader Hector Monsegur, unmasked by the FBI

Anonymous unmasked; leader Hector Monsegur

Though they may hack websites for the banter, when you take down the US Department of Justice’s page you risk the wrath of the security services.

So far dozens from many countries (including the UK and US)  have been arrested for taking part in Anonymous hacks. A 19-year-old called Dmitriy Guzner was sent to jail for a year for hacking.

Hector Monsegur, one of the main leaders of the group was identified by the FBI in 2011. Monsegur then spied on Anonymous for the FBI, leading to more arrests.

Anonymous’s attacks on child pornography websites on the Dark Web have been praised by some. However others say that taking vigilante action may compromise existing police investigations.

Don’t think this is just about crashing websites though. Anonymous actually caused the resignation of Aaron Barr, CEO of company HBGary. Emails they had hacked into revealed some dodgy corporate behaviour.

Anonymous also organises the Million Mask March, an annual event where Anons descend on London. In recent years this has also expanded to other cities. Violence has previously broken out at these marches with protesters fighting against police officers.

It could be argued that being a freedom fighter requires breaking the law in order to overcome the current system. But is violence ever justified?

Anonymous has just as many enemies as supporters. However Anonymous is here to stay, at least for now. After all, how do you shut down a global operation which has no known base?

 

Anonymous Unmasked; the most elusive activist group in the world

Is this new activist group what’s needed to take on corruption and bring power back to the people? Or is just a network of bored troublemakers? What’s your take on Anonymous?

Do say: “Anonymous is an interesting example of how lack of structure in an organisation makes it hard to shut down”

Don’t say: “I bet they couldn’t hack me”

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Snoopers’ Charter: invasion of privacy or for your safety?

TL;DR the “snoopers’ charter” is a proposed new law which allows spies to see the websites you visit without a warrant.

 

Snoopers’ what?

It’s officially called the Investigatory Powers Bill. It increases the amount of online activity the government can track and monitor.

Announced in the Queen’s Speech, the snoopers’ charter is designed to help the authorities tackle terrorism. According to them, at least.

Why the sudden need to redefine what powers are legal? Current laws are out of date and whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that our spy agencies engaged in mass collection of data. Questionable behaviour and possibly illegal.

 

As it stands

snoopers charter, george clooney peers over a hill

Government wants to implement a ‘snoopers’ charter’ and track online activity… We hope George Clooney is the one snooping on us!

Right now the rules on what spies are allowed to do are very messy. Most were written before the rise of the internet and social messaging apps like WhatsApp.

Early in 2015 an independent report said “time to start over” with a comprehensive law outlining what powers the spooks should have.

The government’s view is that technological advances (think: social media, instant messaging) are allowing terrorists and criminals to communicate undetected.

In 2011, the London Riots were partly coordinated by people using private chat on Blackberry Messenger.

Currently spies can listen in to your phone calls and intercept your emails if they get a warrant signed by the Home Secretary. These are only approved if the government thinks you are a threat to national security. Don’t take it personally.

Phone providers also keep records of who you call and when. Spies and police can request to access these records. The government now want internet providers do the same thing for all websites we visit.

 

What would the snoopers’ charter allow?

If passed into law internet providers will have to record and store information every website we visit. Here’s the bit everyone’s talking about: police and security services will not need a warrant to view these internet connection records.

However these powers will only be used to determine if we’re doing something illegal. Not just to see which news sites we prefer – Scenes of Reason, obviously 😉

Only the homepage of the website will be stored. For example, spies would be able to see that you visited www.scenesofreason.com but not the specific articles you looked at or who you spoke to. Here’s Home Secretary Theresa May explaining:

 

Though as the tweet below shows, you can still learn a lot from the home pages people visit;

 

 

The bill also allows the “bulk” collection of data for the first time in law;

 

 

This is the collection of LOTS of data in the hope that it contains information relevant to police/spy investigations. AKA the activity that Edward Snowden uncoveredNeedle in a haystack, anyone?

 

 

The snoopers’ charter also clarifies the powers of the state to use “equipment interference powers”. Basically hacking into your computer.

Communication companies will have a legal duty to assist spies to hack into the devices of criminal suspects. You heard that right; your network provider would have to help James Bond gain access your phone.

Previous versions of the snoopers’ charter threatened to ban apps likes WhatsApp. The reason being spies and the cops can’t access messages sent via these apps due to the encryption that they use. The new bill doesn’t go that far.

Instead it suggests that the government would be able to request information, even if encrypted. How the hell this would work or if it’s possible we don’t know.

If you love your reading the full 229 pages of the draft snoopers’ charter, ahem, sorry – the draft Investigatory Powers Bill is available to view online. Happy reading.

 

Should I be worried?

If you are a terrorist or criminal then, yeah.

snoopers charter, law abiding citizen, gerard butler, gif of gerard butler winking

Law abiding citizens don’t need to fear the new bill… not you Gerard!

If you are a law-abiding citizen (please, no jokes about the Gerard Butler film) the government say you don’t need to worry.

However civil rights groups are already saying that it’s making it too easy for the government to spy on innocent people. Expect lots of debate in the coming months over the criteria for defining someone as a suspect.

As companies will have to store communication data for up to a year, others are worried about the risk of this data being stolen. When 15-year-olds are hacking phone companies perhaps this is a valid concern.

Others say that it could lead to a massive database where everyone’s communications are logged. Obviously the government says this won’t happen. Good one, guys, feel a lot better about that now.

Considering that previous versions of the snoopers’ charter included ideas like spies being able to access communications in real-time you might think this new version is a lot tamer.

Labour’s Andy Burnham says the new bill broadly gets the balance right.

The bill does includes a “double lock” to ensure that these new powers won’t be used for the forces of evil. Government ministers will give the green light to more intrusive surveillance. This decision also need to be okayed by a judge.

This is apart from emergencies where a minister could authorise spying immediately, without a judge’s say-so. The judge would then have five days to review the case.

There will also be safeguards for “sensitive professions” for those handling confidential information. Like doctors with medical records and journalists protecting sources. We sure feel sensitive.

However, not all are convinced. Shami Chakrabarti from campaign group Liberty calls the snoopers’ charter a “breath-taking attack on the internet security of every man, woman and child in our country.” Guess you can’t please them all.

 

Join the snoopers’ charter debate:



 

Snoopers’ Charter Decoded: new laws mean all your internet activity will be logged.

If you don’t want to be traced you could always go into the Deep Web.

Should the UK government have the power to collect masses of communication data? If it’s for the greater good does that make it OK? Post or tweet us your answers and we promise not to pass them to the government.

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Going Underground: the secret world of the Deep Web

We can only see 10% of the internet, the rest is invisible “Deep Web”. Is this really full of drug dealers, pornography and hitmen?

 

What is “Deep Web”?

Let’s face it; the internet is vast. Type a phrase into Google (other search engines are available) – it tells you how many results link to that phrase. Even searching your own name can find tens of thousands of results (try it!)

However, what many people don’t know is that what we see is only the tip of the iceberg.

Only around 10% of the internet is “indexed”, which means search engines like Google and Bing can find it.

The other 90% of “hidden” content is the Deep Web.

The deep web has received a lot of negative press recently. Various articles focus on how it is full of dodgy illegal sites selling drugs, passports and weapons. As we’ll see, this isn’t providing the full story.

 

How does Deep Web work?

Deep Web: a laptop screen, password typed in

Password protected; most pages accessed via a password are part of the deep web

When we google something we’re actually searching an index. Think: a massive library of different web pages.

Stuff like your email inbox, online banking and website databases can’t be indexed. Anything which you go through a login page to access.

Deep web is more difficult to index as information is stored on databases, not specific web pages. Put simply: it’s hidden. With us so far?

So if most of the deep web is just harmless private material, why all the bad press? It’s all to do with people using it to become anonymous. It’s time to go underground;

Now you see me, now you don’t

Deep Web: a tracker puts her nose to the ground and sniffs

Using normal servers means your online activity can be tracked

When you visit a website using a regular browser you access the website data direct from that webpage.

This is quick, but your location and information you download is logged.

Meaning people (the government) can track where you are and what you look at. Creepy or what?

In the 1990s the US government developed a programme for anonymous file sharing.

They called it “Tor”, short for “The Onion Router” (we’ll explain the name, we promise).

 

This is how Tor accesses the deep web;

Scene from Goldeneye where Natalia tries to access deep web to reach Boris

Tor bounces your request from country to country; making it hard to trace

First you make a request to find a web page. The request to find the intended destination is wrapped in layers of encryption or code – like the skin of an onion. Onion layers, onion router – those computer guys sure had some wordplay skills.

Instead of going direct to the web page your request is bounced randomly across a network relay of computers all across the globe.

As your request arrives at a new location a level of encryption is unlocked. All the relay computer sees are instructions to send the request on to the next location.

In real world language; bouncing across different locations makes it near impossible to trace the user. Meaning you become anonymous. There’s even a version for smartphones. Ooooh, exciting.

Yes, using deep web to surf the web anonymously is legal. However, if you use it for illegal activity… well, go figure.

Is Deep Web the same as “Dark Web”?

Yes, and no. There’s a lot of confusion as “deep” and “dark” sound pretty similar, and lots of people use the terms interchangeably.

 

Screen shot of Deep Web site Silk road selling drugs, weapons and porn

Silk Road: the Amazon of the deep web.

The dark web is actually a section of the deep web. Dark web is used to describe a specific group of websites which use Tor encryption to hide their location.

Whilst dark web is part of the deep web, it is very different. Simples.

The most famous dark web site was Silk Road, described by the press as “Amazon for criminals”.

It was an anonymous online marketplace selling anything from illegal drugs to plastic explosive.

There’s even been reports of hitmen offering their services on the deep web. Mostly drugs though… or so we hear.

Deep Web: a gif of a cat in a pirate suit

If the deep web isn’t all drugs and porn… does this mean it’s all cat pictures?

Before it was closed by the authorities Silk Road users paid for their goods using an online currency called BitCoin. Rumoured to be the “next big thing” in the currency world, BitCoin also offers some anonymity if you’re clever with computers.

Is the majority of the web filled with pornography, hitmen and drugs? Not really. It’s been estimated that the dark web makes up only 0.01% of the internet.

So although 90% of the internet is deep web, only a tiny fraction of this is naughty sites like Silk Road.

Why all the fuss over people being anonymous?

With stories about spy agencies intercepting images from people’s webcams it’s no surprise that some of us want a little more privacy. Going anonymous can give us that.

Deep Web: activitists in guy fawkes masks protest against internet censorship

Activists use the deep web to spread their message

Despite creating Tor the US government now wants it shut down to stop criminals trading anonymously on the deep web. Oh, the irony.

Yet the dark web isn’t just used by criminals.

Activists and journalists working in China and other countries with strict censorship laws use Tor and deep web to spread their message.

Even Facebook got in on the act. It created a dark web version of the site for those living in countries like Syria and China which ban Facebook.

The website Wikileaks was set up by activist Julian Assange to expose government and corporate misconduct. It used deep web encryption so that whistleblowers could anonymously supply evidence.

The problem: though some see whistleblowers and activists as freedom fighters, others see them as lawbreakers.

Seems like this argument will continue going round in circles.

 

Deep Web learnings; the internet is not just for porn.

Think we missed something? Let us know sor@scenesofreason.com.

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Is Cyberbullying harmless banter or serious crime?

If you post a negative comment about someone online is that just harmless banter, or cyberbullying? What about freedom of speech?

 

What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbulling = a wave of fire hits a computer user

Cyberbulling; a barrage of online insults

Cyberbullying (AKA Trolling) is bombarding someone online with insults and threats.

The rise of social media and online chatrooms has made it a lot easier for people to engage in cyberbullying. It’s a lot easier to say something nasty online, rather than to someone’s face. Victims of trolling can be celebrities but can also be ordinary people.

Cyberbullying can be as simple as leaving a hateful comment on someone’s profile, all the way up to posting naked pictures of someone online, or threatening them.

Though trolling is now part of  popular culture, referenced in films like Chatroom and Unfriended, this issue is more serious than it first seems.

 

Why are we talking about trolling?

Apps like Tripadvisor, where you can rate restaurants and hotels, are often hijacked by trolls. In some cases the trolls haven’t even visited the restaurant they are slamming.

As soon as a high-profile news story breaks, you can bet that people online will be expressing their views pretty vocally. There’s nothing wrong with expressing an opinion, but often people go a step too far. Charlotte Proudman, the barrister who called out sexism online received a barrage of death threats and menacing messages.

Twitter response to the Peeple app, people make comments comparing it to cyberbullying and trolling

Is #peeple just a new app for cyberbullying?

As with regular bullying, what can seem to the bully as harmless banter can be experienced by the victim as cyberbullying.

Defining cyberbullying is a question of proportion. Posting a single joke, or negative comment could be seen as harmless, but if this happens regularly then it could be seen as trolling.

However, even a single comment can be damaging, especially if you haven’t asked for feedback. That’s why everyone is getting vocal about a new app called Peeple. This app allows you to rate and review people you know, just like Tripadvisor.

People are irked because there is no way to opt out from being rated. The Telegraph describes how you can rate other people even if they don’t have the app, by simply entering their mobile number. To remove the review they have to sign up to the app themselves.

Positive responses to the Peeple app, accused of being a cyberbullying app

Divisive; Peeple has some supporters

Peeple CEO Julia Cordray said “You’re going to rate people in the three categories that you can possibly know somebody — professionally, personally or romantically”.

Ratings and reviews are not anonymous, something which the developers hope will prevent trolling and increase the amount of positive reviews. If someone calls you out with a negative review you get a 48 hour window to sort things with them before the comment is posted online.

It could be argued that Peeple users should be allowed to air their views. You know, freedom of speech and all that. Despite this people are still worried this is basically a trolling app; whereas some others are going to give Peeple a chance.

Cordray acknowledges that “there seems to be some fear and I have a lot of empathy for that… But I’m going to lead by example and show that this app is actually more positive than it ever could be negative.”

Which is fair enough, but as Cordray also says that we “deserve to see where you could improve” perhaps the negative comments about aspects of the Peeple app should be used to improve it?

Some are calling for Peeple to be banned by the app store –  others think governments can do much more to stop trolling ruining lives.

Have your say:

Is Peeple a good or bad thing? Let us know;

 

Should we take a tougher stance on trolling?

The number of cyberbullying victims in the UK is on the rise. A man called Sean Duffy was jailed in 2011 for posting insulting and insensitive messages about people who had died. In 2013 a teenage girl committed suicide after being bullied online.

A victim of cyberbullying with her head in her hands

Cyberbullying is on the rise in the UK

Yet for now there is no specific law against cyberbullying.

We have three different laws; the Malicious Communications Act, the Communications Act and the Protection from Harassment Act. Overkill much?

Messages which show intent to cause physical harm or violence, harassment or stalking will get you into trouble. But the Crown Prosecution Service (the guys who take you to court) is quite strict about who gets served.

Children who are unlikely to know the damage their comments may cause are unlikely to be prosecuted.

The UK government has just released a new anti-trolling website to help victims of cyberbullying. Should we go further, following New Zealand in making cyberbullying illegal?

New Zealand’s anti-trolling law was voted this year. It focuses on hate speech – so racism, sexism, homophobia are all no-goes. Trolls using offensive language or bullying people could end up with a fine or even jail time.

Despite most New Zealand MPs voting in favour of the new law many people worry it will limit freedom of speech. They say people offended by jokes, satirical articles or opinion pieces could use the law to attempt to get them removed.

Trolling is becoming a real problem, but is restricting people’s comments online prohibiting freedom of speech?

 

Cyberbullying Decoded: If you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t say it online.

Should the UK create a specific cyberbullying law? Are apps like Peeple just a harmless bit of tech, or something more sinister?

If you or someone you know is the victim of cyberbullying, Childline offers support and has guidance pages about what to do.

 

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