Two days after a “hacktivist” group called Anonymous threatened cyber attacks on the Israeli government for its blockade on Gaza, the websites of the Israeli Defense Forces Spokesman Unit, Shin Bet and Mossad have been taken down. The Israeli government denies that Anonymous is responsible, but the timing is impeccable.
On Friday, Anonymous released a video on YouTube pledging to attack Israel if it intercepted a flotilla delivering aid to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. “We do not tolerate this kind of repeated offensive behavior against unarmed civilians…if you continue blocking humanitarian vessels to Gaza…then you will leave us no choice but to strike back again and again until you stop,” the video threatened.
The Israeli military was not deterred and did not allow the ships to break the blockade. On Sunday, the aforementioned government websites unexpectedly went off-line. The Israeli government says it is due to a “server error” and Anonymous is not responsible. Though the cause is yet to be determined, it is clear that the threat from cyber vigilantes like Anonymous is growing.
Anonymous lacks an official hierarchy. This sometimes leads to confusion, such as when it was reported that Anonymous was planning on bringing down Facebook on November 5. There was also disagreement among factions over whether to target the New York Stock Exchange. One faction briefly disabled its website on October 10. Similarly, when the online Playstation video-gaming network was disabled, Anonymous denied responsibility and said that it had been framed.
The members do not have a common ideology or cause, and the hackers pick and choose which operations they want to support. “We have this agenda that we all agree on and we all coordinate and act, but all act independently toward it, without any want for recognition,” a member of Anonymous said. The group was established in 2003 and its members call themselves “Anons.” It is easy to join the Internet-based group but your membership is rescinded the second that your identity becomes known.
Operations are pitched in online chatrooms that sometimes have up to 600 participants at one time. It is in these forums that the plots are discussed and members decide if they want to become involved. It is not uncommon for a “hacktivist” to participate in a single operation related to an issue he holds dear and then to never return. The general operation consists of using a botnet that overwhelms a website with traffic, overloading the servers. These botnets are purchased online for $5-10,000 from websites like that of the criminal Russian Business Network. Amazon.com’s huge server capacity enabled it to defeat an Anonymous botnet attack last Christmas.
Anonymous and other “hacktivists” like LulzSec have attacked all sorts of governments and companies for assorted reasons. They have claimed attacks on the CIA, NASA, NATO, San Francisco’s mass transit system, the Boston Police Department, an FBI contractor, the Westboro Baptist Church, the Church of Scientology and many others. In July, it infiltrated a U.S. government contractor named Mantech International Corporation and leaked private communication about its work with NATO. Mantech offers cyber security as one of its services. Booz Allen Hamilton was also hacked and over 90,000 military email addresses were released, as well as passwords and internal data.
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