Have you been getting confused by all of the hacker groups and hacker group spinoff groups and side projects of hacker groups and their spinoffs? Are you a little tangled up in the web of connections between Anonymous, LulzSec, AntiSec and others? Don't feel bad. It's really confusing.
Thankfully, a talented intern at Geekosystem created an infographic. Describing his flowchart-like layout, Eric Limer writes, "Events are listed in unscaled but roughly chronological order from top to bottom." It's mostly helpful in seeing how the different groups are connected to each other and where they branch off on special projects. There's even some color coding and visual cues to show who's friends with whom and what those relationships begat in the recent history of hacking. There's not, however, much explanation about the projects or the groups. We've done our best to itemize and explain everything with a handy hacker glossary.
4chan - Christopher Poole (screenname: moot) created this anonymous, image-based forum in his New York City bedroom at age 15. Since its launch in 2003, 4chan has grown to become one of the most trafficked forums on the internet with nearly seven million unique visitors a month. The culture at 4chan is both incredibly creative--memes like lolcats and Rickrolling started on 4chan boards--as well as potentially destructive--4chan users hacked Gawker and released the account info of all their users earlier last year.
Anonymous - The name of the eponymous, leaderless hacking group originated on 4chan in 2003, and it's believed that various members of Anonymous met there. In 2008, an unofficial spokesperson Trent Peacock described the group on a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio show:
We [Anonymous] just happen to be a group of people on the internet who need--just kind of an outlet to do as we wish, that we wouldn't be able to do in regular society. ...That's more or less the point of it. Do as you wish. ... There's a common phrase: 'we are doing it for the lulz.'
An oft-cited mission statement of sorts reads:
Knowledge is free. We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.
Anonymous uses the Guy Fawkes mask from V Is for Vendetta as one logo and a headless businessman for others. Beyond iconography, however, the history of Anonymous is best told through a timeline of its projects.
Project Chanology - Though the name refers to its beginnings on 4chan, Project Chanology is widely recognized as Anonymous's first major coordinated effort and targeted the Church of Scientology. Anonymous declared war on the Church of Scientology after they attempted to remove a potentially condemning video of Scientologist Tom Cruise from the internet in 2008. Though that war took many forms--prank calls, black faxes, denial-of-service attacks--it all started with this YouTube video:
The statement in the video shows off the activist beginnings Anonymous: "For the good of your followers, for the good of mankind--for the laughs--we shall expel you from the Internet and systematically dismantle the Church of Scientology in its present form."
YouTube Porn Day - After the long fought battle with the Church of Scientology and a few other smaller projects, members of Anonymous teamed up with eBaum's World users to declare YouTube Porn Day on May 20, 2009. The protest itself, as the name sort of suggests, involved countless people uploading porn to YouTube to annoy the moderators who would then have to remove the videos. It took YouTube days to remove all of the videos. The group repeated the action in 2010 "in protest of YouTube's decision to suspend the account of Lukeywes1234," an otherwise typical user whose account was suspended for abuse language:
Operation Payback - Anonymous did some work around the 2009 Iran election protests and Australian internet policy, but they gained global notoriety as activists--or more appropriately, "hacktivists"--for their support for WikiLeaks. Although the project started in September 2010 as a war against the recording industry for opposing internet piracy, it evolved. Beginning in late November 2010, when the first U.S. diplomatic cables were released by WikiLeaks, Anonymous latched onto the cause and launched Project Avenge Assange, an attack on banks and credit card companies who froze WikiLeaks donations.
When asked whether the attack constituted a cyberwar, security expert James Lewis balked at the term. "I would say that a war involves damage and destruction," Lewis told AFP. "This is more like a noisy political demonstration, like a mob surrounding a bank and refusing to let anyone in or out. It's not war."
John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the Electronic Freedom Foundation correctly anticipated more attacks in the future. "This is kind of the shot heard round the world--this is Lexington," said Barlow.
AnonOps.US - This subgroup of Anonymous spun off in mid-October 2010 when Operation Payback hit a lull. They bill themselves as an infrastructure for the group, and their internet relay chat (IRC) network remains a central hub for activity amongst various hacker group. They also maintain a Twitter account with updates.
Operation Leakspin - Anonymous conceived of Leakspin in December 2010 as a way to help WikiLeaks sort through data. Unlike Operation Payback, which was bent on destruction, Leakspin focused on exposing information for the public good, and the effort still survives across a number of websites.
*Attack on HB Gary - Although not mentioned in the chart, this event marks an important turning point for Anonymous. After Aaron Barr, chief executive of the internet security firm HBGary, announced that he would reveal the inner workings of Anonymous at a conference in February 2010, the group brought down their website and phones, erased files and pulled over 68,000 emails from their database. Within those documents was a PowerPoint presentation called "The WikiLeaks Threat" which HBGary compiled for Bank of America in order identify and potentially disrupt the activities of journalists who supported the movement, including Glenn Greenwald.
Operation Sony - Sony filed a lawsuit against George Hotz, a hacker who reverse engineered the Sony Playstation 3, in January 2011. In response, Anonymous announced that they would attack Sony's website in early April 2011. Three weeks later, the entire Playstation network was brought down, and Sony was unable to restore the network for weeks. Anonymous cheekily denied responsibility for the attack, although Sony reports having discovered a document named "Anonymous" on their servers that read "We Are Legion."
Operations Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt - During the Arab Spring, Anonymous launched a number of campaigns against the Tunisian, Algerian and Egyptian governments protesting their suspending internet access. Anonymous has also hacked into a number of Libyan government websites during the civil war there.
Operation Orlando - Anonymous attacked the websites of the Orlando Chamber of Commerce and Universal Orlando Resort in June 2011 after police there arrested Food Not Bombs volunteers for breaking city ordinances while trying to feed the homeless. HackerLeaks, a WikiLeaks-type site just for hackers, was created as a result.
LulzSec - This small offshoot of Anonymous supposedly organized themselves around the same that Anonymous was working on various Arab Spring projects. Short for "Lulz Security" LulzSec attacked various government and corporate websites. We've covered almost all of those attacks here.
AntiSec - LulzSec disbanded in June 2011 but not before they announced a new project that reunited LulzSec members with the leaders of Anonymous. This hacktivism project began with a major release of documents from law enforcement officers in Arizona.
Web Ninjas, TeaMp0isoN, The A-Team and th3j35st3r ("The Jester") - These mostly small and less organized groups all launched attacks on LulzSec at some point in time. The attacks are disparate and kind of hard to track as the groups are also loosely organized. TeaMp0soiN launched this attack in late June 2011 and seem like they have a lot of members. The Jester, however, works alone.
Who else? If we or Geekosystem missed anyone, let us know in the comments!