Anonymous Team: Anonymous Is Destroying Itself

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe’s Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

The voice of the ATeam says Anonymous is failing in its mission and is tearing itself apart

A member of the Anonymous offshoot that took down Theresa May’s website this weekend has told TechWeekEurope the hacktivist group is falling apart.

According to the “voice” of the ATeam, Winston Smith, there is a “huge amount of infighting” across Anonymous. He claimed to have been threatened and attacked “quite a lot” by other members of the group. The situation has gotten so bad that Anonymous is failing in its original mission, Smith admitted.

The antagonism between different factions of Anonymous is “destroying itself”. This has been caused, in part, by the arrests of various hacktivists, he said. “Because of the arrests, paranoia is destroying the organisation. I have been repeatedly threatened by anons,” Smith added.

“LulzSec left a huge hole that others are trying to fill.”

Arrested development

One of the leading voices of LulzSec, the group which claimed hit on various big-time organisations including Sony and the CIA, was arrested last year and was reportedly working for the FBI as an informant. The revelations surrounding Sabu, whose real name is Hector Xavier Monsegur, caused shockwaves across the Anonymous world, making trust a rarer thing in the world of the hacktivists.

Read an IRC interview with the A Team

Law enforcement is clearly making its presence felt within hacktivist circles. Other alleged members of hacktivist groups, including UK-based suspects Ryan Ackroyd and Jake Davis, were charged by the FBI in March this year.

The ATeam, otherwise known as the Anonymous Team, is launching its own campaign looking to tackle what it sees as weaknesses in the collective. Today, it kicked off an initiative designed to stamp out “black hat grooming of children within Anonymous.”

“We believe too many children are being arrested within the movement for criminal offences arising from Black Hat hacking driven by idealistic grooming by faceless individuals within Anonymous,” the group said.

“Lives of children are being ruined engaging with adults who manipulate them into activities that will almost certainly lead to jail, extremism exists within Anonymous and anonymity of the organisation is allowing the grooming for children into cyber terrorists. Being Anonymous is no excuse for allowing children to be criminalised with their lives ruined, never mind that it makes a mockery of our credibility and our standing in the wider community.”

A number of teenagers have been arrested under suspicion of involvement in hacktivist groups. Just last week, a 17-year-old  alleged to be a spokesman for hacking group TeaMp0isoN was apprehended. Ryan Cleary, a 19-year-old diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, has been charged for involvement in a DDoS on the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). Cleary, who was re-arrested in April for breaching his bail conditions, is due to appear before a judge this month.

Attacks from without

Evidently the young age of those arrested is concerning some factions within Anonymous. But Anonymous’ troubles are external as well as internal. Criticism is even coming from bodies who the hacktivists claim they are supporting.

The Pirate Bay recently bashed the group for using distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on Virgin Media, after the ISP was told to block access to the filesharing service. Many have pointed to the fact that knocking a site offline with a DDoS is the same as censoring that website, indicating Anonymous is guilty of hypocrisy.

Smith told TechWeekEurope the Pirate Bay was wrong to lambaste the group for its attack on Virgin. The ISP was just used as a target to make a wider point against censorship, he said. “Pirate Bay got on the wrong side of the public mood, they thought their name was being used to legitimise a protest. It was not about them directly, they were being used as a  figure of hate by the judiciary to bring in online censorship”

How can Anonymous bounce back from this nadir? For a start, the ATeam wants to see more accountability across Anonymous. “There are many anons who are actual extremists hiding behind the masks. We believe the mask has to come off,” Smith added.

“That’s why the ATeam was formed, to lead by example.”

Given the vehemence of some of the comments on TechWeekEurope’s exclusive on the Theresa May website hit, Smith and his small band of hacktivists have a mountain to climb if they are to make changes to the whole group. Anonymous, which once had a semblance of unity, is now a collective full of disparate bodies, each with their own polemical battle. It’s hard to see how Anonymous can be unified again.

Read an IRC interview with the ATeam

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