For nearly a decade, the hack-tivist group Anonymous has been grabbing media attention with their high-profile digital attacks, but what does Anonymous truly stand for? The answer is more complex than it may seem.
Because Anonymous has no command structure or official membership, it’s hard to differentiate between causes supporting the group as a whole and causes supported by various members. After their formation in 2004, the group finally rose to prominence in early 2008 with a series of attacks on Scientology, but after that point their precise objectives become murky. Regardless of their specific agenda, Anonymous’ actions generally condemn internet censorship, and most of their internet attacks target organizations and businesses that they believe practice censorship or enable abuses of civil rights. While hack-tivism is the main motivation for people who claim allegiance to Anonymous, another subset claims to be “doing it for the lulz,” simply enjoying the ability to create chaos.
Its lack of a formal structure makes Anonymous difficult to track or prosecute for their crimes, which have cost businesses millions of dollars and compromised the security of multiple nations. Their main method of attack–DDoS, or Distributed Denial of Service–is notoriously difficult to track and Anonymous is known for taking extra precautions to protect the identities of those involved, but in the standoff between computer hackers and computer forensics, computer forensics is gaining ground.
The evidence in the most recent high-profile case (an attack by Anonymous against internet commerce giant PayPal) was gathered from IRC (Internet Relay Chat) logs, where members discussed possible targets and bragged about past accomplishments. Forensic investigators stated that the members of the group had gotten complacent, believing that they wouldn’t be caught, and because of this they made a number of critical errors.
Once the culprits had been identified through IRC logs and their patterns of internet activity, police confiscated their computers. With computer forensics, they were able to find hacking software on at least one member’s computer, and a digital trail that proved sufficient to deliver multiple convictions.
The battle between computer hackers and computer forensics wages on, and one of Anonymous’ main defenses is others understanding and spreading information about the technology used to track them, forcing forensic scientists to constantly develop new software and techniques. A shortage of computer forensic specialists makes this task particularly challenging, but luckily, it’s one of the fastest-growing fields in the nation, and specialists are always in demand.
If the battle between computer hackers and computer forensics is one that you find fascinating, check out P.I.T’s Cybersecurity degree program. Our curriculum addresses the ever-growing need to protect private data and vital infrastructure from attack, damage and exploitation in an increasingly networked and computerized society. This may be the field for you.