Anonymous continues to evolve. After launching online attacks against the Church of Scientology in 2008, Anonymous gained renewed energy with distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks in 2010 against PayPal, MasterCard and other organizations it accused of blockading financial payments to WikiLeaks.
Since then, the loosely organized and chaos-loving hacktivist collective has continued stealing and dumping -- doxing -- data from businesses, government agencies and individuals that the group's members disliked, gaining further notoriety with high-profile breaches of HBGary Federal, private intelligence firm Strategic Intelligence (better known as Stratfor), consumer electronics giant Sony and even an FBI transatlantic cybercrime coordination call. Along the way, a limelight-seeking spinoff, LulzSec, and subsequent re-merger in the form of Operation AntiSec, helped further burnish the Anonymous brand.
At least, that is, until authorities caught up with alleged key members, leading to multiple arrests and convictions. Worst of all for Anonymous supporters, court documents revealed that founding father and LulzSec leader Sabu -- real name: Hector Xavier Monsegur -- had been busted by the FBI in June 2011 and within a day of his arrest turned informant. In short order, U.S. and British authorities claimed to have collared the ringleaders of the attacks launched against not just Sony and Stratfor, but numerous police departments and businesses. Far from being a group without a leader, authorities said, the Anonymous and LulzSec attacks had been carried out by a few key people, typically by exploiting known vulnerabilities in websites.
But with the alleged ringleaders facing jail time, the Anonymous brand didn't seem to suffer. Notably, Anonymous groups in specific geographies, including Mexico, South America, France and beyond, began promoting a more local and overtly political agenda.
In the United States, meanwhile, the group appeared to gain new impetus in January 2013, after Internet activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide. The co-founder of Reddit had been facing a potential jail sentence of at least 35 years after being arrested in 2011 for illegally gaining access to the JSTOR academic database and downloading millions of articles that had been funded by the U.S. government, and which he planned to post for free. Ultimately, he never did so, and after he agreed to unspecified damages, as well as to delete all of the data he'd downloaded, officials at JSTOR considered the case to be closed. Federal prosecutors and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, however, pressed ahead, ultimately charging Swartz -- who'd long suffered from depression -- with 13 felony violations.
In the wake of Swartz's death, Anonymous focused its efforts on reforming an issue already near and dear to many members' hearts: The 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) law that's often used to prosecute hackers, and punishing anyone it felt was responsible for contributing to Swartz's death. Cue website defacements and takedowns.
Read on to catch up on the latest Anonymous developments.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Edans.