Some hackers claiming to be affiliated with Anonymous have launched a threat against Facebook. Some say it's an empty one. According to a YouTube video uploaded in July but covered widely this week, Anonymous is planning a full-fledged assault against the world's largest social network on November 5, or Guy Fawkes' Day. (Fawkes is the guy that tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605 and has become the unofficial mascot for Anonymous.) In a characteristically garbled computer voice, the video says that "Facebook has been selling information to government agencies and giving clandestine access to information security firms so that they can spy on people from all around the world" and vows to "kill Facebook."
After the video was widely shared, one Twitter account closely associated with Anonymous quickly denied that Operation Facebook was sanctioned by Anonymous on Wednesday. "TO PRESS: MEDIAS OF THE WORLD... STOP LYING! #OpFacebook is just ANOTHER FAKE! WE DONT "KILL" THE MESSENGER. THAT'S NOT OUR STYLE," said one tweet from AnonOps. "Dont be silly. Important things are happening in the world to deal with quirks like #OpFacebook. Lets keep our style & moral," said another. "#OpFacebook is being organised by some Anons. This does not necessarily mean that all of #Anonymous agrees with it," AnonOps later clarified. Other Anonymous accounts followed suit with similar statements.
As AnonOps indicated, some media outlets covered the threat as an orchestrated Anonymous operation. Others were more skeptical. About half of that set suspected the whole thing was a hoax, and the other half speculated that even if Anonymous members worldwide united behind the cause, they probably couldn't put a dent in Mark Zuckerberg's hackerproof ship.
Matt Peckham at Time's Techland blog reports on the hoax claim:
But the video's not yet been referenced by any of Anonymous' "official" websites or Twitter accounts. That, and security expert Eugene Kapersky (of Kapersky Lab, the security company) says it's probably just a hoax.
"The news around #Anonymous to attack #Facebook on Nov 5 most probably is fake," wrote Kapersky on Twitter today, adding "Interestingly the news first appeared weeks ago but gained popularity just yesterday," and cautioning to "Also pay attention to the strange Twitter name they used and links to websites with adverts."
Don Rowinski at ReadWriteWeb speaks for the toothless threat claim:
In reality, it is not likely that Anonymous has the chops to really hurt Facebook. In its history, the favorite weapon of Anonymous and LulzSec has been the distributed denial of service attack (DDoS). … A DDoS attack would not work on Facebook. It is too large, too sophisticated and handles so much data already that there is little that a DDoS would accomplish.
Rowinski quotes security specialist Graham Cluely to explain that Facebook has survived DDoS attacks in the past. He goes on to speculate that the attack could take a different form, and the group could "publicly shame Facebook and make users lose trust." Rowinski writes, "If Anonymous really wanted to attack Facebook, digging up dirt in its own corporate communications would be the way to go."
Regardless of the speculation around the threat, Parmy Olson at Forbes makes a good point about the broader implications of what Anonymous has affected internet culture. Olson compares Anonymous's organizing methods to those used to organize the recent riots in London:
People joined these physical and virtual attacks for their own reasons. Sometimes it chimed with a personal ethos to fight the establishment or defend free expression, often they just wanted to jump in for the thrill of it all. … As the British public’s anger simmers, more will start asking questions about what caused the latest riots. …Yet with more youngsters learning first-hand how easy it is it organize insurgencies, you have to wonder if we’d be wise to expect more of them in the future.