And Now You Know   1 comment

One of several Anonymous monikers.

Has anyone else been following the recent news stories about the hacker group “Anonymous”? I read about Anonymous a few months ago and now I’m fascinated. There’s no way I can fully explain what Anonymous is, nor can I provide all the mind blowing details about each of their major raids, so if this story piques your interest, run a search for Anonymous in your web browser. The stories you’ll find are seemingly endless. Books about Anonymous will be published, I’ll bet my blog on it.

In 2008 Chris Landers wrote a great (but really long) article for the Baltimore City Paper about the group’s origins. To surmise: Anonymous is a global collection – a “gathering” – of unidentified hackers that wreak anarchic cyber havoc on various organizations and companies for various reasons. The group has been labeled everything from an online Robin Hood to cyber terrorists. Anonymous has no official leader but works as a collection of individuals to hack for causes they deem worthy. Anonymous spawned from the depths of /b/ – a random content forum on 4Chan, which is a massive online imageboard where users can post content anonymously.

Protip: Don’t let your mum visit 4Chan.org/b/.

Rather than fade into obscurity or disband, Anonymous has seemingly grown over the last two years in both membership and notoriety. Some “Anons” hang out in the vast, untraceable depths of Deep Web. One might be that IT guy that lives 2 doors down from you. The reach of Anonymous is global and its headquarters is located everywhere and nowhere. The group’s activities are immensely popular with some people, and detested by others. Your feelings towards Anonymous will likely be decided by which side of the hacktivities you’re on: The observing end or the receiving end. If you haven’t figured it out by now, Anonymous is not a group you want to piss off. The hacking skills of Anons are legitimate. These guys (and gals) aren’t using automated software to find the backdoor into a company or government website. They have other techniques. The kind you see in movies. I can’t even begin to describe what they can do, because I don’t understand it. All I know is that it’s absolutely intriguing. Did you ever see that movie Hackers? Yeah, me too.

Anonymous doesn’t attack random obscure individuals like you or me. Rather, Anonymous takes on major companies, opinion leaders, and movements. Right wing extremists, the Church of Scientology, YouTube, (allegedly) the Epilepsy Foundation, the Governments of Iran, Australia and Egypt, Amazon.com, Visa and Mastercard, and more. Their slogan?: We are Anonymous. We are legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.

One organization that became the victim of Anonymous in 2010 is the infamous Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) of Topeka, Kansas, USA. This church is essentially a thinly veiled hate group that uses God’s name and some incredibly offensive words to picket the funerals of gay service members and other people. It’s sad to think that groups like the WBC are allowed to function in today’s modern society…but I don’t want to talk about that right now. Back to the cyber story, please! On February 24, 2011, the WBC made insulting and aggressive statements towards Anonymous who, in the middle of a live debate with the WBC, pulled the plug on the WBC website “Godhatesfags.com”. The debate was mediated by David Packman and can be seen below. It gets interesting at about the 7 minute mark (a.k.a., the point where the WBC website gets hacked). As of today, the WBC website is still down. WBC – 0, Anonymous – 1.

You might be thinking “okay, that’s great. But who cares?” Although you will probably (and hopefully) never be on the receiving end of an Anonymous hack, there are some really simple but really important lessons to remember as an individual user of the Internet.

Lesson #1: Passwords. Change them up every now and then. Don’t use the same password for every online account you have. Make sure your password is at least seven characters (but the longer the better). Use a combination of symbols, numbers, and upper and lower case letters. Hackers can use an algorithm tool called a “rainbow table” to figure out passwords. If your password is a combination of your pet’s name and the year you were born, a rainbow table is going to figure that out, Sparky87.

Lesson #2: Don’t send emails that you wouldn’t feel comfortable having published on the front page of the New York Times (the online version, of course). I have mentioned this before in my post about tips for becoming a PR superagent, but it bears repeating. One particularly damaging element of the Anonymous hack on HBGary (ironically a cyber security company who threatened to reveal Anonymous member identities to the FBI) was the release of over 70,000 emails. The emails were posted to the Pirate Bay for global public viewing. As Digital Trends reported, “Subject matter range[d] from a PowerPoint Presentation detailing intentions to plant false stories about WikiLeaks to embarrassing love letters between company execs.” Since the attack, HBGary has lost major clients and partners in the cyber security industry.

Lesson #3: If your computer is turned off, you can’t be hacked. It’s like your computer doesn’t even exist. But if it’s turned on and you’re in a public place (like an airport), check your sharing settings to see if people can find your computer. Is your computer discoverable via bluetooth? You might want to turn that feature off if you’re not using it. And if you’re searching for a wi-fi hotspot, don’t jump on a network that doesn’t look legitimate.

Lesson #4: If you’re using a public computer, make sure you log out of any accounts or social network sites. Just closing a browser window isn’t always enough these days. If you leave your Facebook page open for the world to see, you’re also leaving valuable personal information out in the open for anyone to take advantage of. Don’t be that person. You’re better than that.

These lessons are simple and easy to follow. As an online user these lessons should be second nature to you by now. Although there are multitudes of methods hackers can use to get at your personal data, following these quick tips can help reduce that threat.

~C

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One response to “And Now You Know

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  1. PROTIP: good blog

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