Hackers and hucksters reinvigorate ‘Anonymous’ brand amid protests

By Joseph Menn

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The amorphous internet activist movement known as Anonymous staged an online resurgence in the past week on the back of real-world protests against police brutality.

Born from internet chat boards more than a dozen years ago, the collective was once known for organizing low-skill but effective denial-of-service attacks that temporarily shut down access to payment processors that had stopped handling donations to the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks.

But accounts using variations of the Anonymous name recently claimed credit for temporarily knocking a Minneapolis police website offline and, inaccurately, for hacking police passwords.

At the same time, millions of Twitter accounts began following longstanding Anonymous posters and retweeting them, helping boost Anonymous into Twitter’s Trending column and greater attention. Many of the boosted tweets opposed police actions, defended Black Lives Matter or faulted President Donald Trump.

It is unclear who or what is driving the resurgence, and exactly why. McGill University anthropology professor Gabriella Coleman, who wrote a book on Anonymous, said she was told by insiders that some key figures from a decade ago are involved and they are being assisted by mechanical amplification.

“The ability to create so many new accounts is classic Anonymous social-technological hacking,” Coleman said. “It’s low-hanging fruit.”

Even one of the heavily boosted old accounts, YourAnonNews, tweeted that it had no idea what was going on. It experimented by tweeting nonsense and asking not to be retweeted, only to see those tweets repeated hundreds of thousands of times.

A Twitter spokeswoman said the company had seen no evidence of “substantial coordinated activity” among longstanding Anonymous accounts but deleted one spammy new one brought to its attention by a researcher Tuesday.

“We have seen a few accounts change their profile names, photos, etc. in an attempt to visibly associate with the group and gain followers,” said Twitter spokeswoman Liz Kelley.

Anyone can call themselves a member of Anonymous and adopt its Guy Fawkes mask, other imagery and slogans, such as “we are legion.” It has no acknowledged leaders, making it more of a brand than an ordinary assemblage.

One account with 120,000 followers, AnonNewz, had deleted all prior tweets before June 1, when it started promoting protests. But it had neglected to delete its old “likes,” which were about Korean pop music, and it had interacted in the past with other K-pop fans touting giveaways.

After researcher Marcus Hutchins of cybersecurity company Kryptos Logic tweeted about the account, Twitter suspended it.

Twitter told Reuters it removed AnonNewz for “spam and coordination with other spammy accounts.”

(Reporting by Joseph Menn; Editing by Greg Mitchell and Leslie Adler)

Months before shooting, parent warned Colorado school could be next ‘Columbine’

Crime scene tape is seen outside the school following the shooting at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, U.S., May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – Five months before Tuesday’s deadly shooting at a Colorado school, a district official urged the school’s director to investigate allegations of student bullying and violence by a parent who feared they could lead to the next “Columbine.”

In a Dec. 19 letter to the director of the STEM School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, the district official said the anonymous parent raised “concerns about student violence due to a high-pressure environment” and referred to the massacre at a nearby school in 1999.

One student was killed and eight injured when two classmates opened fire with handguns at the school on Tuesday.

The district official’s letter, seen by Reuters, said the parent told Douglas County School Board of Education Director Wendy Vogel by telephone that “many students are suicidal and violent in school. Several students have reported sexual assault and nothing is being done.”

Referencing an alleged bomb threat and “an extremely high drug culture at STEM,” the parent said the environment at the school was “the perfect storm,” according to the letter.

The parent expressed concerns about a repeat of what happened at Columbine when 12 students and one teacher were killed, about five miles northwest of the STEM school.

Douglas County School District official Daniel Winsor’s letter to STEM Executive Director Penelope Eucker asked the school to investigate the parent’s “very serious” concerns, determine their “legitimacy, and “take any remedial action that may be appropriate.”

The district informed police of the allegations, it said. Cocha Heyden, a spokeswoman for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, said on Thursday that the district filed a police report about the complaints.

Winsor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Eucker said in a statement on Thursday that STEM contacted the school’s 2,800 parents seeking information on the complaints.

“While STEM took the allegations seriously, our investigation revealed no evidence to support any of the allegations,” the statement said.

On January 17, the school filed a lawsuit in Douglas County District Court seeking to establish the identity of the anonymous parent, who it said defamed the school and Eucker.

On Feb. 1, the school told parents their attorney was seeking “full remedy” for the “outrageous accusations,” which also included embezzling public funds and teaching children how to build bombs.

“We want you to know the depth of this depravity and apologize if you find this as offensive as we did,” said that letter, seen by Reuters.

(Reporting By Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Chizu Nomiyama)

Proposals to curb online speech viewed as threat to open internet

Anonymous members protesting censorship of Internet usage

By Yasmeen Abutaleb and Alastair Sharp

SAN FRANCISCO/ TORONTO (Reuters) – At least a dozen countries are considering or have enacted laws restricting online speech, a trend that is alarming policymakers and others who see the internet as a valuable medium for debate and expression.

Such curbs are called out as a threat to the open internet in a report on internet governance set to be released today at an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development meeting in Cancun, Mexico.

The report, reviewed by Reuters, warns of dangers for the global internet, including intrusive surveillance, rising cybercrime and fragmentation as governments exert control of online content.

It was prepared by the London-based Chatham House think tank and the Centre for International Governance Innovation, founded by former BlackBerry Ltd co-chief Jim Balsillie.

China and Iran long have restricted online speech. Now limitations are under discussion in countries that have had a more open approach to speech, including Brazil, Malaysia, Pakistan, Bolivia, Kenya and Nigeria.

Advocates said some of the proposals would criminalize conversations online that otherwise would be protected under the countries’ constitutions. Some use broad language to outlaw online postings that “disturb the public order” or “convey false statements” – formulations that could enable crackdowns on political speech, critics said.

“Free expression is one of the foundational elements of the internet,” said Michael Chertoff, former U.S. secretary of Homeland Security and a co-author of the internet governance report. “It shouldn’t be protecting the political interests of the ruling party or something of that sort.”

Turkey and Thailand also have cracked down on online speech, and a number of developing world countries have unplugged social media sites altogether during elections and other sensitive moments. In the U.S. as well, some have called for restrictions on Internet communications.

Speech limitations create business and ethical conflicts for companies like Facebook Inc, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google, platforms for debate and political organizing.

“This is the next evolution of political suppression,” said Richard Forno, assistant director of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Center for Cybersecurity. “Technology facilitates freedom of expression, and politicians don’t like that.”


Tanzania and Ethiopia have passed laws restricting online speech. In others, including Pakistan, Brazil, Bolivia and Kenya, proposals are under discussion or under legislative consideration, according to a review of laws by Reuters and reports by Internet activist groups.

In Bolivia, President Evo Morales earlier this year said that the country needs to “regulate the social networks.” A bill has been drafted and is ready for introduction in the legislature, said Leonardo Loza, head of one of Bolivia’s coca growers unions, a supporter of the proposal.

“It is aimed at educating and disciplining people, particularly young Bolivians, and fighting delinquency on social networks,” Loza said. “Freedom of expression can’t be lying to the people or insulting citizens and politicians.”

A bill in Pakistan would allow the government to block internet content to protect the “integrity, security or defense” of the state. The legislation, which has passed a vote in Pakistan’s lower house of parliament, is supposed to target terrorism, but critics said the language is broad.

It comes after Pakistan blocked YouTube in 2012 when a video it deemed inflammatory sparked protests across the country and much of the Muslim world.

Earlier this year, YouTube, which is owned by Google, agreed to launch a local version of its site in the country. But now, the internet report said, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority can ask the company to remove any material it finds offensive.


U.S. internet companies have faced mounting pressure in recent years to restrict content. Companies’ terms of service lay out what users can and cannot post, and they said they apply a single standard globally. They aim to comply with local laws, but often confront demands to remove even legal content.

The new laws threaten to raise a whole new set of compliance and enforcement issues.

“There’s a technical question, which is, could you comply if you wanted to, and then the bigger meta question is why would you want to cooperate with this politicized drive to suppress freedom of expression,” said Andrew McLaughlin, Google’s former director of global policy and now leading content organization at Medium.

Facebook, Twitter and Google declined to comment for this story.

(Reporting By Yasmeen Abutaleb and Alastair Sharp; Additional reporting by Daniel Ramos in La Paz, Bolivia; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Lisa Girion)

Cyber War Between Hacktivist Group “Anonymous” and ISIS Escalates

As world powers such as Russia, France, and recently China begin to ramp up the fight against ISIS on the ground, the hacktivist group “Anonymous” has escalated their fight against the terrorist organization via cyber war.

Earlier this week, Anonymous posted a video on YouTube declaring war on ISIS. Since then, CBS News reports that they have been responsible for taking down more than 3,800 ISIS-linked Twitter accounts. Their latest video, released on Wednesday, stated that they have taken down more than 20,000 accounts and even offered a link to the list of Twitter accounts that have been taken offline.

Despite their success taking down ISIS related Twitter accounts, the group has escalated their tactics. They have now issued a guideline for hacking ISIS, and indicated they would be spamming ISIS related Twitter accounts that aren’t immediately taken down, according to NBC News.

As a response to the recent threat, ISIS had issued a set of basic rules for protecting themselves against Anonymous hackers. The measures were sent via an encrypted chat app called Telegram using the alias “Khilafah News.” The International Centre for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR) was the organization that spotted the messages, and the channel ISIS was using has since been shut down.

“O’ brothers of tawheed,” the message starts (tawheed in Islam refers to the oneness of God), “The #Anonymous hackers threatened in new video release that they will carry out a major hack operation on the Islamic State (idiots)… So U should follow the instructions below to avoid being hacked.” The instructions include frequently changing IP addresses, not communicating with people they don’t know on Twitter or Telegram, and not using the same name for emails and Twitter usernames.

And while Anonymous is taking the fight to ISIS, experts say that they are doing little to hurt the terrorist organization.

“They’re not going to be able to disrupt operations or coordination within the ISIS network,” said Denise Zheng, deputy director and senior fellow for the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies told CBS News. “It’s much more of an annoyance, really, I think, to them, than anything else.”

As mentioned above, China has recently stepped into the fight against ISIS after the terrorist group recently released an article in their magazine stating that they executed Chinese national Fan Jinghui. China has vowed to bring ISIS to justice. Jinghui is the first known Chinese national to be killed by the Islamic State, according to CNN.


“Anonymous” Hackers Declare War on ISIS

The hacker collective known as “Anonymous” declared war on ISIS in a video posted on YouTube in response to the horrendous attacks that took place in Paris on Friday.

According to NBC News, the video has yet to be verified by officials, but in the video a spokesman wears the group’s signature Guy Fawkes mask and says in French that the group will use their expertise in a “war” against the Islamic terrorist group.

“Expect massive cyber attacks. War is declared. Get prepared,” the announcer says in French.

“Anonymous from all over the world will hunt you down. You should know that we will find you and we will not let you go. We will launch the biggest operation ever against you,” the spokesperson continued, according to translated transcripts of the video.

The spokesman continued to call the members of ISIS “vermin,” and that their actions would not go “unpunished.”

As of Monday at 8:30 a.m. Central Time, the video had accumulated 1.1 million views on YouTube, according to the Jerusalem Post.

The Huffington Post reports that the hacktivist group also posted on Twitter: “Make no mistake: Anonymous is at war with Daesh.” Daesh is another name for ISIS.

Anonymous is a group of international network of activist computer hackers who have claimed responsibility for numerous cyberattacks against corporate, religious, and government websites over the past 12 years. Since the Charlie Hebdo attack in January that led to the death of 17 people, Anonymous has been targeting and shutting down Twitter profiles believed to be used by ISIS and their supporters. The Jerusalem Post reports that the hacktivist group has reported more than 39,000 ISIS accounts to Twitter. Out of those, more than 25,000 have been suspended, but almost 14,000 are still active.