Who is Anonymous and what is its purpose, the hacker collective with the Guy Fawkes mask as its symbol

Anonymous it is a movement of hacktivismi.e. activism through hacking, which aims to fight online censorship and corruption, in defense of freedom of expression. The name Anonymous has the dual meaning of “anonymous” And “nameless” and has as its symbol the Guy Fawkes mask of the famous film V for Vendetta. In the past it has launched cyberattacks on government institutions, corporations and Scientology. In recent years it has intervened in political contexts such as the war between Russia and Ukraine: in February 2022, the movement attacked numerous Russian government sites, even obscuring the platform of TV channel pro-government RT News.

What is Anonymous and what are its goals

The Anonymous movement was born in 2003 on the imageboard 4chan (chan is short for channel), founded in the same year and used primarily as a discussion forum on anime and manga. On 4chan you could upload images anonymously, with a shared identity system. The name Anonymous comes from nickname given to visitors who left anonymous comments and has the double meaning of “anonymous” and “without identity”. It is not known precisely how the hacker collective was born; the fact is that initially the group used the 4chan platform to organize pranks and cyberbullying actions.

In 2008 Anonymous has begun to carry out the first actions of hacking to institutions and organizations, through cyber attacks. Initially, these attacks blocked and disrupted websites, platforms, and chats, leading them to be labeled as cyberbullying hackers. As time passed, however, Anonymous began to deal, through computer hacking, with struggles against oppression, online censorship and social injusticestargeting institutions and governments.

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In this regard, it is important to clarify that Anonymous has no leaders or declared bosses, does not target private users and therefore does not represent a threat to individuals browsing the web.

The mask of “V for Vendetta”

There mask used by Anonymous was first used in 2008: hundreds of members of the collective took to the streets to denounce the abuses of the Church of Scientology. The mask of Guy Fawkes, the Catholic conspirator who tried to kill James I of England in 1605 in the so-called Gunpowder Plothas therefore become the symbol of the movement.

The collective born from 4chan began to grow more and more and identify with the mask of “V for Vendetta”to represent, like the protagonist of the novel and the film, the will to fight injustice, corruption and “the strong powers” (institutions, governments, large companies) and above all to defend the freedom of expression. The Guy Fawkes mask has been used by various other political groups in protest situations, such as the Arab Spring.

Anonymous protest outside Scientology headquarters in New York. Credits: David Shankbone

Anonymous' targets: the most famous attacks

There have been numerous actions and attacks carried out by Anonymous in defense of freedom of expression. One of the first was the so-called Chanology Project: in 2008 the movement began an operation against Church of Scientologyaccused of censorship after attempting to remove a video featuring one of its members, Tom Cruise, from the Internet. Since then, Project Chanology first focused on cyberattacks against Scientology and then morphed into non-violent protests in numerous cities around the world, from Europe to the United States.

Another famous case in 2010 it concerned the organization WikiLeaks (founded, among others, by the IT activist Julian Assange) which, in the wake of Anonymous and thanks to a powerful encryption system that guarantees anonymity, allows you to upload secret documents and materials anonymously to your portal, with the aim to increase transparency andcitizens' access to information and to democracy.

In 2010 large banking circuits such as Visa, Paypal and Mastercard decided to interrupt the possibility of making donations to WikiLeaks, a decision that led Anonymous to decide to attack the servers of these companies in what was called “payback operation”.

Other famous cases carried out by Anonymous were cyber attacks on the profiles of ISIS members after the attack on the headquarters of Charlie Hebdoin Paris in 2015, the cyber attack on Russia in February 2022. After the invasion of Ukraine, in fact, the members of Anonymous decided to attack not only numerous sites belonging to the Russian government, including that of the Kremlin and the Russian Ministry of Defense, but also the television channel RT Newsaffiliated with the government, obscuring its platform.

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