Anonymous is #StandingWithUkraine
The hacker collective has emerged as a new player in the resistance to Vladimir Putin's illegal attack on a neighboring democracy
Today is ordinarily subscribers-only: given the world situation, opening this post to everyone seems like the right thing to do. And if you know someone interested in war’s digital backstage, please:
In a story that has not yet fully percolated to mainstream news sites, the Anonymous hacker collective has re-emerged to support Ukraine and declare war on Russia. Yesterday, it took down RT News, the Russian propaganda site favored by the American tankie left. As of this writing, FAS Russia, a government-run propaganda site, is still down 19 hours after a dedicated denial of service (DDoS) attack.
But it is nice to see Anonymous, an anarchist hacktivist group that emerged from 4chan in 2003, back in action. Anonymous first came to public attention in 2008 for persistently pulling the Church of Scientology’s nose, the first of many vigilante actions that displayed a fierce sense of social justice. The decentralized, coordinated group specializes in the DDoS—bombarding a website with so much data that it collapses and is forced offline—but the Chanology Project, as it was called, launched numerous demonstrations against the Church’s policies and practices over the next several months. As they are sometimes called, Anons were also early online drivers of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. And in 2017, an Anon was sentenced to two years in jail for hacking the Steubenville, Ohio football team fansite, an action that forced the prosecution of players involved in the gang rape of a 16-year-old girl.
Anonymous has always had tensions that are probably aggravated by leaderlessness. They exist primarily between Anons who hack for the “lulz” and political Anons: trolls used to refer to them as “moralfags.” Increasingly, politically engaged members have dominated, and recently, it has been particularly active in supporting the Movement for Black Lives, fighting police violence, and working for economic justice. But in 2016, when Anonymous declared “total war” on Donald Trump, activists descended into infighting, with some anons accusing those trying to take down Trump’s internet presence of doing it only for the publicity.
The group seems to have overcome these differences and reactivated in 2020. However, it’s hard to know whether this is a peace brokered among the old groups, an entirely new generation of hackers, or older activists reinforced by new ones. But in a sense, it doesn’t matter. As Dale Beran of The Atlantic points out, “Anonymous members will tell you that Anonymous has no members, that it is not a group, but rather a banner. People rally to it. And like a pirate flag, anyone can run it up their mast and start doing deeds in Anonymous’s name.”
This morning, Anonymous took down the Russian Ministry of Defense’s website, which seems like a sign that they are getting closer to a more debilitating strike on the nation’s cyberinfrastructure. In addition, and perhaps inspired by the collective’s work, as part of the general mobilization in Ukraine, Reuters reported yesterday that the government has put out a call on hacker websites for help monitoring Russian troop movements and communications.
While the Defense Ministry will not confirm or deny the information, according to Chris BIng at Reuters, this message appeared on hacker sites:
"Ukrainian cybercommunity! It's time to get involved in the cyber defense of our country," the post read, asking hackers and cybersecurity experts to submit an application via Google docs, listing their specialties, such as malware development, and professional references.
Yegor Aushev, co-founder of a cybersecurity company in Kyiv, told Reuters he wrote the post at the request of a senior Defense Ministry official who contacted him on Thursday. Aushev's firm Cyber Unit Technologies is known for working with Ukraine's government on the defense of critical infrastructure.
Hundreds of applications are now being vetted to ensure that Russian agents are not twinkling their way into the cyber force, which will be divided into offensive and defensive units.
The military might of Vladimir Putin’s army is terrifying. However, some analysts note that in the first 48 hours of fighting, the Ukrainian military has slowed the Russian advance more than anyone—much less Putin himself— expected. The battle raging in and around Kiyev suggests that this will initially intensify Russian violence, primarily through the ruthless airstrikes on civilian populations and civilian infrastructure that the Bush administration used in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and Putin test-drove in Syria between 2015 and 2018.
In one of its favorite tricks, Anonymous defaced numerous Russian municipal websites this morning and put up a video of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy instead.
But could hackers put also put metaphorical sugar in Russian gas tanks? Maybe they could. It seems reasonably clear, from their tweets, that Anonymous is monitoring closed Russian military communications networks, and if that is so, they can take those networks down. It may also signify that they have already infiltrated other software systems that allow a modern military to function. Last night, the Russian security services (FSB) announced that attacks on cyberinfrastructure had reached a “critical threat level” and were intensifying.
These hacks make each day of the war more inefficient, painful, and costly for Russia. The Russian military may be large and well-equipped, but like all modern militaries, it is computer-driven. Worse, Putin’s army also relies on inexperienced one-year conscripts who will fight increasingly less well without the communications infrastructure and computerized aircover.
Can Anonymous, if perhaps not defeat, significantly disable the Russian advance? Let’s hope so. I’ll be watching their Twitter feeds.
At Vox, Ian Millhiser reports on the SCOTUS nomination President Biden is expected to announce today: Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, recently confirmed to the DC Court of Appeals. Although the GOP will oppose the appointment, “it’s unclear what, exactly, will be the GOP’s case against Jackson.” Although she has made many decisions on “hot-button issues,” those rulings have often been narrow enough that “it’s hard to tease out an ideology from those decisions.” (February 25, 2022)
Gen Zers will be a dominant element of the workforce in less than a decade, and, according to Erica Pandey at Axios, they will fundamentally alter the work economy by their willingness to change jobs, and even career paths, to craft more satisfying lives. “Gen Z joined the workforce in the middle of pandemic-induced telework, which has also shaped their view of the working world,” Pandey writes, and according to data from LinkedIn, “77% more likely to engage with a job posting on LinkedIn that mentions "flexibility" than one that doesn't.” They also want connection and a workplace that reflects their values. (February 25, 2022)
Not unexpectedly, a barrage of anti-Ukraine propaganda preceded Russia’s unprovoked attack. Now the Putin government is limiting all information to Russian audiences about the war, something facilitated by an intensified campaign to choke off freedom of the press in the past year. As Jon Alsop of the Columbia Journalism Review reports, “One news site already complied with an order to delete a story about explosions in Ukraine. Staffers at another media group were reportedly told to shut down their social media accounts on presidential orders, with criticism of the Kremlin now grounds for termination.” (February 24, 2022)
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