Who is behind Anonymous, the hackers who have declared war on Isis

The infamous hacker group Anonymous has declared war on Isis following the Paris attacks, and it wants you to join. But what is behind the grinning mask?

Feared for its large and fluid membership, piercing cyber attacks and unpredictable political agenda, Anonymous, the most famous hacker group in the world, has taken on enemies as disparate as the Church of Scientology, Visa, the government of Zimbabwe and the KKK. Its latest target is Isis, the terrorist organisation allegedly behind the attacks that hit Paris on the evening of the 13th of November killing around 130 people.


Anonymous inaugurated #OpIsis, also known as #OpParis, after armed gunmen terrorized Paris in January killing twelve staff members of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, amongst others. On the same day as the most recent Paris attacks the hacker collective released a video declaring its renewed commitment to the war it is waging against Isis.

On the 18th of November Anonymous announced it had taken down 5,500 social media accounts associated with Isis. It also posted three guides on how to hack Isis, including how to uncover social media accounts affiliated to the radical Islamist organisation.

What we know: who Anonymous is

Hacktivism. The “hacktivist” (hacker activist) collective emerged in 2003 from the website 4Chan, an online bulletin board popular amongst hackers where images and comments can be posted anonymously.

Anonymous, which describes itself as an internet gathering, campaigns in the name of free speech and internet freedoms. In a video entitled What/Who is Anonymous it declares: “Anonymous is an idea, it is a banner under which the honest and justice-seeking of the world may rally”.

Membership. Anonymous has no obvious leadership, official membership or central organisation. It stages its operations by bringing together varying numbers of people, communicating mainly through chatrooms. On the other hand, the collective “can be quite organized in different moments,” says Gabriella Coleman of Montreal, Canada’s McGill University, one of the world’s foremost Anonymous experts. “At any given time, there are small teams who work behind the scenes, to harness spontaneous outcries and collective anger in very effective ways, and then allow for broader participation in these different operations,” she explains.

Guy Fawkes. The trademark of Anonymous members or sympathisers is wearing a mask popularised by the 1980s graphic novel and 2005 film V for Vendetta: it depicts the stylised face of Guy Fawkes, the man who tried to blow up the British parliament in 1605. Anonymous has organised Million Mask Marches, anti-establishment rallies attended by people wearing Guy Fawkes masks, every year since 2013. The street protests take place in cities around the world on the 5th of November, a date celebrated in the United Kingdom to commemorate Guy Fawkes’s act.

Who it targets

Project Chanology. Anonymous became famous when it conducted cyber attacks against the Church of Scientology in 2008, reacting to the Church’s request to remove a Scientology video starring Tom Cruise from Youtube. It released sensitive Church documents on peer-to-peer networks, a technique known as doxing, and brought down Scientology websites by orchestrating distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which overwhelm a website with traffic causing it to crash.

OpPayback. The hacktivist group got even more attention in December 2010 when it conducted DDoS attacks against Visa’s and Mastercard’s websites after they had begun blocking donations to Wikileaks, the journalistic organisation that publishes information gathered from whistleblowers. It is reported that more than 35,000 people downloaded an application called a Low Orbit Ion Cannon tool to conduct the DDoS attacks.

Governments. Avenging those to have wronged Wikileaks once more, in December 2010 Anonymous brought down government websites in Zimbabwe after its leader Robert Mugabe’s wife sued a newspaper for publishing a Wikileaks cable. In early 2011 the hacktivists conducted similar attacks on the websites of the Egyptian and Tunisian governments in response to them cutting internet service in their respective countries to clamp down on Arab Spring protesters.

As well as striking the Austrialian government in February 2011 and the Iranian one in May of the same year, Anonymous announced it coordinated a takedown of Israeli websites in July 2014 to protest the country’s occupation of Palestine.

Operation KKK or Operation Hoods Off. Anonymous is also targetting the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), the white supremacist organisation still active in the United States. The identities and information, including social media accounts, of more than a thousand KKK members have been published on the anonymous sharing site Pastebin, as announced in November. Anonymous began targeting the Klan after a group affiliated to it threatened to exercise “lethal force” against those who protested the death of Micheal Brown, the unarmed black teenager killed by a police officer in the city of Ferguson, Missouri, USA in August 2014.

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