The hacker network Anonymous has quite an interesting record at this point. The group gained prominence for its cyber-retaliation against companies that stopped supporting Wikileaks. Now, it seems the hackers have struck again. The new target: the Koch brothers-funded group Americans for Prosperity. The reason: their involvement on the anti-union side of affairs in the recent budget turmoil in Wisconsin. The problem: it's not actually clear that they're being targeted, or that the group has a problem with the Koch brothers at all.
Let's review: Ben Smith at Politico reports that the Prosperity website was unavailable at times last night, with other reports alleging that a community forum site for Northern Quilt--the toilet paper company that is backed by the Kochs--was taken down as well. A press release posted on Anonymous's website communicated the group's apparent beefs with the Koch brothers in addition to calling for a boycott of all the paper products they're involved with, like Dixie and Angel Soft. The release says the issue is Governor Walker's "union-busting budget plan" that "would allow the sale of publicly owned utility plants in Wisconsin to private parties (specifically, Koch Industries) at any price, no matter how low, without a public bidding process." Says the statement: "It has come to our attention that the brothers, David and Charles Koch--the billionaire owners of Koch Industries--have long attempted to usurp American Democracy. Their actions to undermine the legitimate political process in Wisconsin are the final straw. Starting today we fight back."
Here's the thing: there's also another press release that seems to be taking all that back. "There have been several news articles recently suggesting that Anonymous is taking a very specific political stance regarding the events in Wisconsin," this particular statement reads. "While some...are undoubtedly passionate about this issue, it would be a mistake to report that Anonymous is targeting the Koch brothers, or are even uniform in their opinion of collective bargaining rights of public employees at the state level."
So what's going on here? According to information on the Anonymous website, "anyone" is free to post a press release (we didn't try) and a look at the various statements archived reveals a pretty loose, free-form group. Sounds like the Koch brothers may only have enemies among some of the Anonymous members.
To give you a sense of the group's fragmented approach to these things, a quick rundown of the targets they've allegedly gone for in the past:
Anti-WikiLeaks Sites Like Paypal Within 12 hours of a Swedish judge denying Julian Assange bail, several attacks were unleashed on various corporate websites, causing them to function slowly or not at all. Paypal was hit as an apparent retaliation for the company's decision to stop processing donations for Wikileaks group. MasterCard, Amazon and Visa's websites were affected as well, in addition to the websites of the Swedish prosecutor's office and the lawyer representing the two women who had made allegations around sexual misconduct involving Assange.
Westboro Baptist Church The Kansas-based WBC church claimed last week that its website came under attack from Anonymous, and produced a written threat they said was from the organization. The claim was dismissed by many as a hoax and the WBC responded with the taunt to "Bring it!" Not one to turn down a challenge, members of Anonymous apparently brought down the Church's website during an online chat meant to moderate a discussion between the two organizations after Shirley Phelps-Roper, the spokesperson from the Westboro Baptist Church repeatedly denounced the organization and eventually told the Anonymous representative that he was going to hell.
Government Sites in Egypt and Tunisia According to the New York Times, Anonymous had allegedly brought down the websites of the Egypt's Ministry of Information and Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party in support of the anti-government protests there. The month before the group had shut down web sites of the Tunisian Government and stock exchange in support of the uprising that eventually forced Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali from power in Tunisia.
Cyber Security Firm HBGary The attacks reached a peak of irony--or poetic justice, depending on your perspective--when hackers affiliated with Anonymous broke into the computers of HBGary Federal, revealing internal emails that showed the firm had been working with Bank Of America in an attempt to discredit and disgrace Wikileaks, as well as exposing potentially embarrassing allegations connecting the firm to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as well as the Air Force. Aaron Barr, HBGary Federal's chief executive, had his Twitter account hacked, his home address, cell-phone, Social Security number posted and his personal iPad allegedly wiped.
It's worth noting that another press release dated on February 20th seemed to apologize for a hit on the Westboro Baptist Church. The statement reported that the "standard behind Anonymous did not agree with the HBGary hit...many of us are waiting for those who were involved in that Operation to be taken in by the law," while noting that "we did our best to help those who were in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, and other points in the Middle East." Either way, the attacks have succeeded in bringing the issue of cyber-security to the forefront of national consciousness by creating a sense of digital chaos--the same digital chaos that appears to be reigning on Anonymous's website. At least they "walk the walk," as the saying goes.