Anonymous gets exposed (sort of)

Can Anonymous stay anonymous? It’s looking more and more doubtful.

There’s been a conflict brewing within Anonymous for some time now, and last weekend it erupted into public. A former member of prankster/vigilante group, known only by his first name (Ryan), launched an attack on the IRC channel used by the group to coordinate DDOS attacks, taking it offline.

According to an interview with Web site ThinQ, Ryan also leaked the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of the Anon leadership – something I’m sure the Feds investigating hack attacks on Sony, HBGary, the Church of Scientology and others would have a keen interest in.

The split inside Anonymous isn’t new. In March, Forbes blogger Andy Greenberg wrote of a splinter group within the Anons calling itself Backtrace Security. Upset that the leadership of Anonymous was taking itself and the group too seriously, Backtrace wanted to get back to “making fun of stupid people on the Internet. Laughing at natural disasters. Like back to the good old days. Not trying to overthrow governments.”

My guess: “Ryan” and Backtrace are related parties, if not exactly one and the same. And someone from this splinter group may also be responsible for the complete takedown of Sony’s PlayStation Network, along with the evidence planted to pin the blame on the Anons.

[ See also: Just how bad is Google Social Circles? ]

It took about 48 hours for the other Anon admins to get their public site back up and running. (The welcome message: “Yeah we lied a little about how quick we would be but hey... we're quicker than Sony and we don't even get paid!”). Now anyone can peer in chat rooms and look at what they’re talking about.

[img_assist|nid=165595|title=Anonymous Web Chat|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=599|height=421]

(I don't know about you, but I find it richly ironic that this page features an ad for TV's "Covert Affairs.") 

As I write this, the Anons were publicly debating whether to attack the government of New Zealand for daring to consider legislation banning software piracy, or to focus its collective ire on the US government for debating the US Protect IP act, which gives more power to ISPs to police alleged scofflaws.

It’s an unusual window into the lives of people who make up the population of Anon worker bees and wanna bees. It’s also excruciatingly dull.

TechReview’s Julian Dibble notes that though we now know more about Anonymous than we used to, thanks to Ryan/Backtrace et al, we still don’t know enough to draw any firm conclusions about who they really are.

But after spending a few hours checking out their public chats, I think I have a good feel for what they’re about. Anonymous’s real enemy isn’t oppressive governments or Web censorship or  ‘stupid people on on the Internet’ or even its own disgruntled members. Anonymous’s real enemy is boredom. They’ve got too much time on their hands, and they spend it staring at screens instead of doing something useful with their lives. Just like my teenage son.

In short, Anonymous needs a job. And probably a haircut.

TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan would never be able to cut it as an Internet vigilante -- too damned boring. Visit his snarky humor blog (eSarcasm) or follow him on Twitter: @tynan_on_tech.

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