“Building a Better Anonymous” Series: Part 8

Posted: 2012/07/09 in Anonymous

Anonymous: The Beginning Is Near

Anonymous: The Beginning Is Near

Part 8: Conclusion

By Josh Corman & Brian Martin


If you are new to this series, please begin with Part 0 and the index.

NOTE: We will post each installment here for the security industry to garner feedback for about one week prior to posting to Forbes.com and a more mainstream and business readership. Please comment toward improving/clarifying the content.


More than anything, our goal was to cause thought – and get people talking. We believe we have done this. At the time, peers thought we were crazy to choose to tread on such volatile ground. At the time, researchers were afraid to mention the ‘A’ word, and journalists (for the most part) were miles off the mark of understanding the motivations and nature of “Anonymous”. While we may (in fact) have been crazy, we didn’t choose to do this – we were compelled. It was obvious to us that we were watching history unfold – and we saw no one stepping up. As such, it really wasn’t an option for us. It was too important and the topic too misunderstood. A year later, we believe we played a part – even if a small one – in advancing the dialectic and understanding (both within and outside) of Anonymous. We hope this body of work serves at least as a marker of early analysis – and possibly as a framework for future discussions on how others improve upon the Anonymous blueprint.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in writing this eight part article series was the drastically changing landscape surrounding Anonymous. The initial discussion on the topics covered in this series began months before DEF CON 19, and this conclusion comes out just weeks before DEF CON 20. The published articles started on December 20, 2011, and wrapped up on July 9, 2012. The amount of edits and revisions to account for recent events was considerable. As we released an article, invariably, an event would occur that forced us to reconsider our own ideas and beliefs that we had just published. As we could, subsequent articles would incorporate the most recent events and shifts in our perception. We strived to do this to provide timely insight, while avoiding contradictions or making points that were not clear. Writing the series over this many months was both a blessing and a curse.

Did we cover everything? Absolutely not. By our third article, we had been asked several times about turning the series into a book. We passed on that idea, not because of a lack of material and ideas, but simply due to time constraints and the challenge of working an additional year on a topic that changes almost daily. Did we cover new material? We certainly hope so. In talking with people about Anonymous, we frequently bring up points that some people had not considered. Those points and ideas were the impetus of the articles.

Are things getting better? Unfortunately not enough, not yet, although we do hear rumblings of internal debates and conversations within Anonymous about many of the issues we’ve framed here. Overall, Anonymous, law enforcement, and the corporate security response to the group are all lagging in improving themselves. The grim reality is that many facets of Anonymous are here to stay. Hacktivism, compromising systems (i.e. the proverbial low-hanging fruit), decentralized leaderless groups, and a slow response to these things will continue for years. Evolution is a slow process, including people that live by digital standards. We have seen glimmers and sparks of promise in a few Anonymous affiliated individuals. In any group, it starts with a few and we encourage those few to lead the others for everyone’s benefit, even if it shatters the notion of a leaderless group.


If the topics we discussed are of interest, there are several resources available to help stay current with Anonymous related happenings. First, following the #anonymous hash tag on Twitter is both frustrating and enlightening. The amount of Tweets bearing that hash tag are considerable and become very difficult to keep up with. The authors have found which accounts are more signal than noise, but it is worth attempting this on your own for a bit – if only to see how varied the tones and messages are. The list below is a partial, chronological list of resources, which evolved with the authors’ understanding and serve to bookend this series.

May 18, 2011: “The rise of the chaotic actor” on CSO Online

This article was Josh Corman’s first step to start public discourse on Anonymous in the security community. This is what introduced the term “chaotic actors” – as opposed to “good” or “evil”. This eventually led to the formation of the DEF CON 19 panel. This (not fully thought out) 3×3 below sparked Martin and Corman’s collaboration on the topic of Anonymous.

Corman Chaotic Actors 3x3 Alignment Chart

Chaotic Actors 3×3 Alignment Chart

August 6th, 2011: DEF CON 19 panel titled “Whoever Fights Monsters…” Confronting Aaron Barr, Anonymous, and Ourselves.

The panel, which legal threats kept Aaron from joining, turned into something more valuable. In fact, Brian Martin (Jericho) was not even originally part of the panel, but replaced someone who withdrew. A video of the panel is available (174meg, MP4 format) and helps to set the foundation of many of our points. A more valuable, revealing, and engaging hour of Q&A followed with vocal and active members of Anonymous. Thanks to a journalist, an audio recording of this Q&A is now posted for the first time here (46meg, MP3 format). NOTE: The first 2 minutes 40 seconds are hard to hear while they fixed the input levels – so stick it out (or jump ahead).

October 12th, 2011: Pecha Kucha YouTube (6m 40s) “The Rise of the Chaotic Actor: Understanding Anonymous”

Josh Corman was invited to do a Pecha Kucha 20×20 (20 slides times 20 seconds) format talk on Anonymous for the RSA Europe 2011 conference. This attempted to give a better thumbnail for the masses and helped to frame much of the early outline of this series.

November 16th, 2011: SOURCE Barcelona “Adapting to the Age of Anonymous”

Josh Corman gave a full hour presentation on much of the framework of the blog series to a group of “friendly” long time hacker community researchers. Both slides and video were captured. NOTE: While out discussing the issue over tapas and Sangrias, our group encountered an Occupy protest with many Guy Fawkes masks and over a dozen riot vehicles ready to respond – henceforth known as #OccupyTapas.

April 17th, 2012: SOURCE Boston 2012 Keynote “Anonymous 20*20: The Beginning is Near” SOURCE Boston Keynote

Josh Corman and Brian Martin gave the Keynote presentation on Anonymous at SOURCE Boston (slides / video). The presentation covered many ideas and points outlined in these articles. Later that evening, we were privileged to an advanced screening of the “We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists” documentary, that included material from Chris Wysopal, Biella Coleman, and Richard Theime.

July 28th, 2012: DEF CON 20 panel entitled “World War 3.0: Chaos, Control & the Battle for the Net”

Those profiled in the May 2012 Vanity Fair article “World War 3.0” build upon the basic tenants of the article and prepare the hacker community for the escalating conflict between the forces of chaos and control, the risks posed by the ITU meeting in December, the possible fall-out, and the role that the “hacker community” may play as events unfold. This panel features Joshua Corman, Dan Kaminsky, Jeff Moss, Rob Beckstrom, and Michael Joseph Gross.

TBD, 2012: FILM: “We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists”

This documentary by Brian Knappenberger covers the rise of Anonymous from humble beginnings on the /b/ boards of 4chan. Over a year in the making, it features interview commentary from Anonymous members, pundits, security professionals, and both authors of this article.


This article series was built on a wide variety of public and private resources. News articles, tweets, email lists, and conference hallway discussions are just a few of the primary sources that helped shape our opinions and these articles. We tried to present a balanced view where appropriate, and considered thoughts and feedback from a wide variety of people. These included journalists, citizens, Anonymous, Anonymous’ detractors, analysts, security professionals, and more.

In addition, we’d like to extend a special thanks to Scot Terban for extended discussion and feedback on the content of the articles. Daniel Moeller provided technical editing and a sounding board for ideas and how best to present them. We also want to thank several “anonymous” and “unnamed” individuals for their engagement, feedback and input along the way. Last, but not least, Mar provided us with several pieces of beautiful artwork that brought great visuals to some of our ideas.

Thank you.

Copyright 2012 by Josh Corman and Brian Martin. Permission is granted to quote, reprint or redistribute provided the text is not altered, appropriate credit is given and a link to the original copy is included. Custom graphic courtesy of Mar – sudux.com.

Should you feel generous, please donate a couple of bucks on our behalf to any 501(c)(3) non-profit that benefits animals or computer security.

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