Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Not so Anonymous, after all.

Anonymity is often a refuge people choose to take to protect their identity from public knowledge. In earlier times it has been used by writers, poets, and novelists by signing their work under their “pen names” especially if the content of what they have written is a controversial issue or is politically-charged. They used their pen names to hopefully protect their identity from the government (or whomever they are writing against for that matter) since their actions may lead them to being arrested for subversion or some other criminal act. Our very own national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal used the pen names “Dimasalang” and “Laong Laan” to protect his identity from the Spanish government. Personally, I find this use of anonymity a form of cowardice, since a person uses it as a cloak to avoid the repercussions of his own actions. However, I understand that if it meant protecting one’s own life and liberty, then it is somehow justified.

Nowadays, anonymity is a tool everyone uses online. People protect their identities by using different usernames online. This is especially prevalent if one intends to join group forums and discussions. If you have been a part of online forums and discussion threads, you will see that no one really uses their real names, particularly those who just want to bash or those who do not intend to contribute constructively to the discussion.

But it doesn’t end there. Anonymity is also used by hackers – people who cut into repeatedly and irregularly, computer networks, company websites, and the like. A hackers is a person who uses a computer or other devices to hack into another computer with or with out a password; one who engages in a variety of illegal activities by means of unauthorized entry using a computer and/or related devices, either directly breaking into a computer or through a computer network into other computers using various software methods; a hacker can be a person who is assigned to test software products for a computer company by using a computer, devices and other various methods.

One of the more famous group of hackers is aptly named “Anonymous.” It is a loose, secretive federation of hackers with a vague and ever-changing menu of grievances, but mostly politically motivated. Recently, they have been attacking the sites of companies that withdrew their support to WikiLeaks. In fact, they have publicly called on their supporters to attack the sites of companies it said were turning against WikiLeaks, using tools that bombard sites with traffic and knock them offline.

However last July 19, 2011, in San Francisco, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced the arrests of 16 people across the United States allegedly connected with Anonymous. 14 were charged in connection with the an attack on the Web site of the payment service PayPal last December, after the company suspended accounts set up for donating funds to WikiLeaks. The suspects, in 10 separate states, are accused of conspiring to “intentionally damage protected computers.” Also, a man in Florida was arrested and accused of breaching the Web site of Tampa InfraGard, an organization affiliated with the F.B.I., and then boasting of his actions on Twitter. And in New Jersey, a former contractor with AT&T was arrested on charges that he lifted files from that company’s computer systems; the information was later distributed by “LulzSec”, a hacker collective that stemmed from Anonymous. The arrests of suspected Anonymous supporters in the United States were among the first known in this country.

Hacking is a form of cybercrime and is made possible by a combination of two features of the Internet economy. First, poor security at many companies and agencies makes sensitive government and private data vulnerable to breaches. Second, mounting an attack is inexpensive and, with the right skills, relatively simple.

According to Jennifer Granick, a San Francisco-based lawyer who specializes in computer crimes and has defended hackers in the past, there are two major challenges that the prosecution will face. To wit:

1) Hackers often use aliases and other people’s computers when they carry out attacks, so prosecutors will have to prove that those arrested “were the ones with their fingers on the keyboard,”

2) The conspiracy charge could be especially difficult to prove, given that Anonymous boasts of being leaderless and free-floating. “When you have a decentralized group,” Ms. Granick said, “the question is, Are there big fish, and are any of these people big fish?”

Note that with the exception of one suspect, those arrested were identified by their real names and nicknames, ranging from Anthrophobic to Toxic to MMMM. Most were in their 20s, and just three were above the age of 30. It is unclear if any of them knew one another.

In this arena, anonymity is God. But will this God truly protect them?


Picture Source:

Entry# 5

Mark Garrido

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