Call them hackers, call them heroes- whatever the moniker, the outcome is the same. The Internet collective known as Anonymous continues to wreak havoc across a variety of targets. The group uses powerful computer attacks that rely on brute force to overpower the Internet security of entities it considers immoral, repressive, or just a source of amusement.
The most important aspect of Anonymous is its structure. It is formless. To claim to be a part of Anonymous is to be a part of Anonymous. Occasionally, the more technologically-inclined members will discuss target selection or strategy in Internet conversations, but for the most part the force behind Anonymous's attacks comes from the legions of faceless contributors, who volunteer their computer power to carry out the group's operations.
This decentralized organization makes Anonymous hard to track, but potent enough to damage the Internet presence of companies like MasterCard, as well as government affiliates like the FBI.
Other recent attacks include a threat to dump information about Mexican government officials in the pay of drug cartels and a release of internal e-mails from the Syrian government.
It's clear that Anonymous has the clout to effect real change, but its motivations are a little murkier. One of its most important guiding principles is freedom of information. This concept leads Anonymous to support Wikileaks as well as the revolutionaries of the Arab Spring.
As members of an Internet collective, Anonymous members can aggregate their individual social inclinations into a force of international proportions. Amorphous and democratic, Anonymous taps into the political will of everyday people to bring pressure to bear against its enemies.
High-profile attacks increase the notoriety of the group, but have yet to result in crackdowns from authorities. In one embarrassing case, Anonymous released a secret conference call among FBI investigators. The subject of the call was Anonymous.
Although the government may be stymied now, continued displays may induce them to step up its strategy and take Anonymous seriously. If, for example, Anonymous began cracking diplomatic servers and releasing classified data of military importance, the group could find itself in hot water.
But it's not easy to take down an Internet-based organization – just ask the Pirate Bay. In essence, Anonymous is less of a collection of people and more of an idea that attracts activists. It's hard to fight an idea.