What is the hacker collective Anonymous?

Anonymous popularized so-called hacktivism, i.e. hacking for political or social reasons. At the start, however, the hacker collective primarily drew attention to itself with mass pranks. What actions are attributed to Anonymous, what goals does the association pursue today, and what’s the mask all about?

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Who is behind Anonymous?

Anonymous (ancient Greek for “unnamed”, “without a name”) is a collective of activists raising awareness of freedom of speech and the independence of the Internet, and copyright law through protest actions since 2008. In the process, certain writers, various organizations, state authorities and global corporations became targets. Their means of action are primarily cyberattacks and public demonstrations, and in both cases, the activists remain anonymous. Consequently, the specific individuals behind the collective are unknown, both to the public and to the criminal authorities, who are investigating their predominantly illegal actions.

Only individual arrests have given a face to Anonymous in recent years. The best-known revelation of members can be traced back to the hacker group LulzSec, which was busted in 2012. Its co-founder Hector Monsegur and members Jeremy Hammond and Mustafa Al-Bassam belonged to Anonymous.

What are the goals of the hacker collective?

Anonymous’ goals are very diverse and varied. First, its protest actions used to be aimed at banning the Church of Scientology and its facilities and practices. Denial-of-service attacks on the organization’s websites were combined with prank calls and public protests. Anonymous aims to harm its chosen target in a direct manner. The group uses its capabilities to steal and leak sensitive data, which is referred to as doxing.

Anonymous has named human rights violators, dictators, and censors as its priority targets. Because of its decentralized structure, no moral line or ideology can be formulated. For this reason, Anonymous has repeatedly had to distance itself from various actions in recent years that were carried out in the name of the collective but hardly met its internal approval.


Anonymous uses websites such as the German blog anonleaks.net to keep interested parties up to date.

How, when, and why was Anonymous founded?

The name Anonymous derives from the supposed anonymity under which users publish images, videos, and posts on the web. The idea of using the term as a shared identity emerged on image boards (Internet forums for the anonymous exchange of messages and files) such as 4chan. In 2004, an administrator activated a “Forced_Anon” protocol that automatically signed all posts as “Anonymous.” Shortly after, the initial idea of a single individual behind this profile became a popular Internet meme.

Through 4chan’s /b/ board, users came together to perform mass pranks or attacks on other websites (also referred to as “raids”). These attacks were primarily aimed at sites and people who represented easy targets. There was no concrete ideology or motivation behind the collective’s action at that stage. Nevertheless, the joint actions set the cornerstone of what is known as Anonymous today. The group has been increasingly political as of 2008.


The aforementioned raids no longer play a role in today’s Anonymous actions. If the servers of websites are to be overloaded, the collective does not rely on the computers of individual members, but on hijacked devices that are grouped together in so-called botnets.

What’s with the mask?

In videos or during public demonstrations, Anonymous members always appear wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, based on the graphic novel “V for Vendetta” by Alan Moore, first published in 1982, which deals with the historical legacy of Guy Fawkes (1570-1606), a Catholic officer of England. V, the main character, wears the mask modeled after the face of the historical revolutionary in his fight against the ruling party. The drawings of the British comic artist David Lloyd later served as a model for the film adaptation of the comic in 2006, through which the Guy Fawkes mask and its symbolic meaning gained global popularity.

Which important actions are attributed to Anonymous?

The aforementioned action against Scientology, also known as Project Chanology, marked the beginning of Anonymous’ activities in 2008. Since then, the collective has regularly launched new attacks and leaks that caused a stir globally due to their political and social implications. We have compiled some of the most prominent “operations” – as Anonymous likes to call its projects.

Operation Payback

In 2010, Anonymous launched Operation Payback, a distributed denial-of-service attack that retaliated against copyright associations such as the RIAA and IFPI, which tracked copyright infringements on torrent websites. By the end of the year, the operation shifted focus to companies such as Visa and Mastercard, which had severed their business relationships with WikiLeaks.

In 2011, Dutch prosecutors and police became targets after two people involved in the operation were arrested.

Operation Ice ISIS and Operation Paris

In 2014, Anonymous launched its cyberwar campaign against the Islamic State (IS). Operation Ice ISIS has since pursued the goal of reducing the terrorist organization’s influence on social media. Thousands of suspicious accounts on Facebook and Twitter were subsequently taken over, leaked, or rendered unusable.

After the terrorist attacks in Paris (2015), for which IS claimed responsibility, the collective intensified its efforts as part of Operation Paris. To date, the success of both operations, some of which are considered counterproductive even within Anonymous, has been manageable.

Operation KKK

On October 28, 2015, Anonymous declared that the organization would dox up to 1,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan and others affiliated with the white supremacist terrorist and hate group by releasing their names, claiming they didn’t deserve privacy. A week later, a list of 57 phone numbers and 23 email addresses was reportedly published. Anonymous, however, denied releasing this information and claimed they were still going to, which they then did a few days later.

Operation Nigerian Government

In 2020, Anonymous carried out cyber-attacks on the Nigerian government in support of the #EndSARS movement in the country. LiteMods, one of Anonymous’ members, even tweeted the attacks. The EFCC, INEC, and other Nigerian government websites were overpowered with DDoS attacks.

Operation Russia

Anonymous got involved in the war between Russia and Ukraine in late February 2022. Within a short time, it flooded hundreds of websites of Russian banks and state-owned companies such as Sberbank and Gazprom, media outlets such as Russia Today (RT), and Russian government sites using DDoS attacks. Many of these sites were temporarily shut down.

In an attack on the Ministry of Defense, Anonymous was also able to leak a 1.3 gigabyte data set. On March 7, 2022, the collective managed to hijack Russian state television and some streaming providers to interrupt regular programming and instead show images from the war on Ukraine.

Tip: How to protect yourself from hackers

As an ordinary web user, you are not a likely target for Anonymous. But this politically engaged collective is not the only danger lurking on the web. With the right tricks, you can arm yourself against cybercriminals to keep your data safe long term:

  • Protect logins: Whether it’s social media, cloud service, customer center, or online banking – always ensure you protect sensitive data using a secure password.
  • Secure website: If you run a website, smooth operation is not the only important factor. You are also responsible for your users’ data. Our tips for better website security will help keep your web project safe.
  • Secure server: Run a server that is accessible online? Ensure that criminals don’t stand a chance by configuring a secure server. Among other things, you have the option to set up fail2ban to prevent brute force attacks.
  • Secure email traffic: Email is still one of the most important means of communication. You should use email encryption to protect important messages. Moreover, there are web services that allow you to regularly check whether your email has been hacked.
  • Secure cloud: Many services today run on the cloud where security plays a major role. Companies working with sensitive data should find out how to use their cloud services securely.
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