'Anonymous' Is Going Viral Again, But Is It Really Back?

The infamous hacktivist group is all over the news again during the George Floyd protests. We spoke to a former member and the foremost academic who has studied the movement to understand what's happening.
June 1, 2020, 3:53pm
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Police violence erupted across the country following the police killing of George Floyd. After months of wall-to-wall coronavirus coverage, Black Lives Matter is back in the headlines. And, perhaps surprisingly, so is the hacking collective Anonymous.

Several news websites picked up a new video posted by Twitter accounts who claim to be part of the ever-nebulous collective. Accounts previously associated with the collective tweeted old, debunked court documents tying Donald Trump to Jeffrey Epstein. Accounts previously associated with the hacktivist group also dumped the alleged email addresses and passwords of hundreds of Minneapolis Police Department agents, although it’s more than likely just a collection of old, unrelated dumps made up of passwords cracked from old breaches, as security researcher Troy Hunt concluded.

There were also reports of a distributed denial of service attack, or DDoS, against the Minneapolis PD website, making it unreachable on Saturday night. But as Greg Otto, the editor-in-chief of cybersecurity site Cyberscoop told NBC News, “while the size of an attack may be massive, the ability to launch one isn’t much harder than buying something on Amazon.”

All these years later, Anonymous is back in the news, but it's not clear that this is actually the same group of hacktivists who rose to prominence a decade ago, and the information that's being dumped has thus far been quite easily attainable. Of course, that might not actually matter. Anonymous was always a loose collective of hackers, journalists, activists, and shitposters; if this is a new crop of people controlling Anonymous accounts or calling themselves Anonymous, they can still have an impact.

Focusing on the sophistication of these alleged hacks may be missing the point entirely. For McGill University professor Biella Coleman, a scholar who has studied and followed Anonymous and other hacktivist groups for years, the sheer social media reach of the video and the alleged hacks is notable and “are unlike anything I've seen” and may very well be due to them being shared widely by K-Pop fan accounts, as she put it on Twitter.

Coleman told Motherboard that “Some of the retweets for sure were just kind of nostalgia and desire for Anonymous to come back. ‘Oh my god, they're back, this is so exciting.’”

Are you a hacker involved in attacks against the Minneapolis PD or in support of the George Floyd protests? We'd love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact you can contact Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai securely on Signal at +1 917 257 1382, OTR chat at lorenzofb@jabber.ccc.de, or email lorenzofb@vice.com

Coleman said that this could just be a testament to their earlier impact, but she also believes it’s possible that all this media attention and the historic moment may lead to a resurgence where skilled hackers join in and wreak real havoc.

Former hacktivists agree.

“This is how Anonymous works. Every few years there's a major event that causes masses of people to get involved with Anonymous. In 2008 it was scientology, in 2010 it was WikiLeaks and now it's this. This is the biggest resurgence of Anonymous I've seen. It's nuts,” Mustafa Al-Bassam, a security researcher who years ago was involved with Anonymous and its offshoot group LulzSec, told Motherboard.

“There's Anonymous smut and fanfic and TikTok fancams with millions of views," he said. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy: a random person starts a new op under the banner of Anon, and others join in.”

For Coleman, however, a problem for now is that there’s no real existing group of hacktivists that could take on this cause.

“The only one is Phineas Fisher that is really quite active,” Coleman said in a phone call. “So it would really have to be either a new group or someone from Anonymous that were part of the hacker crews that weren't arrested. Some might re-emerge in a different form. But there's no indication that’s happening right now.”

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This article originally appeared on VICE US.