Anonymous, Defend Your Brand!

Anonymous Guy Fawkes mask
His name is legion, but is Anonymous really this lame? (Photo credit: luccast85 CC-BY), Flickr)

You can’t put your name down for Anonymous because it’s anonymous.

Anonymous is not an organisation because it isn’t organised.

Anyone can claim to act for Anonymous, and sometimes anyone does.

Over the last two days, a second wave of cyber attacks on Israeli web sites has largely fizzled.  Enthusiastic tweets rejoice today in claiming hacks of Likud minister Silvan Shalom’s social media accounts, but that happened last November and not yesterday.

Hacked version of Silvan Shalom's Facebook page
Silvan Shalom’s Facebook page as allegedly hacked by the Anonymous #OpIsrael faction (Twitter)

In some regions of the world this effort will be claimed as a great Israeli defeat that has been suppressed in Western media.  In some regions of the world this claim will be accepted uncritically.  The 7th of April will forever be the day that Israel disappeared from the Internet.  Activists genuinely interested in the well-being of Palestinians will know, however, that this bogus activism has achieved nothing at all.

The threat to Israel’s Internet presence may have originated from a state, from an insurgent group, or from a grassroots movement among activists, but so far the threat to delete Israel from cyberspace on 7 April has been a largely empty one.

I followed a gloat from Twitter about a successful attack on the website to discover that there was indeed no functioning site at that address.  Half an hour later I checked again, and discovered that the claim was a fake:  the correct address was (a Brazil-facing Israeli government website), and that worked fine.

Much of the gloating is in a similar vein.

Someone called MaSdFeD claimed, on the zone-h web site, to have defaced the homepage of Israeli dyslexia charity Center for Self Change at 6:38am on April 8th.

defaced web site
Defaced version of claimed as an #OpIsrael trophy. The original also had music. (screen grab from zone-H)

The trophy post of the hacked version involved the equivalent of spraypainted obscenity and some pop music about Gaza.  The defaced version did not, however, last as long as real spraypainted graffiti.  Compared with the lofty ambitions of hacktivists worldwide, this is deeply, deeply lame. website
Zionist Imperialist Oppressor web site claimed as a hack by Anonymous #OpIsrael (screen grab)

Now, Anonymous has practically created the concept of hacktivism.  The idea that cyberspace transcends borders and exists apart from the power structures of meatspace is an exciting one.  That activists can do good work by manipulating the structures of cyberspace to overcome the rich and powerful of meatspace promises a new epoch.

Petty vandalism on Israel’s remembrance day for the Holocaust is, so far as I can tell, not what Anonymous is about.

That people who may or may not be sponsored by governments, who may or may not have their own hacking skills, who may or may not subscribe to the Anonymous ethos of rational cyber-anarchism can put on an Anonymous mask has got to gall the real hacktivists of the Anonymous movement.

If Anonymous is not all about taking down dyslexia web sites and making bogus claims about trivial Facebook defacement, then Anonymous has got to start policing its brand.  When people choose to make cyber attacks against Israel on the day when the Shoah is commemorated, Anonymous mustn’t find itself on the wrong side.

About the Author
Dr Lynette Nusbacher is a strategist and devil's advocate. She is a core partner in Nusbacher Associates, a strategy think-tank. She has been a senior national security official in the United Kingdom and was Senior Lecturer in War Studies at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.