A history of the hacktivists from Habbo Hotel to the Arab Spring.
3. Operation Payback
The Internet generation’s fondness for piracy has been a well worn trope in media circles, and Anonymous reinforced this perception in its decision during 2010 to retaliate against Bollywood authorised DDoS attacks against torrent websites, where users could find links to pirated content. Anonymous decided to hit a number of copyright organisations, as well as associated law firms.
Anger increased when Visa and Mastercard withdrew payment services from WikiLeaks. Noting that many of the companies were happy to facilitate donations to neo-Nazi groups and other far right organisations, Anonymous organised DDoS attacks against the offending parties, disrupting American e-commerce for several days.
4. Arab Spring
While the political power of the group was growing, the issues the group had confronted had been parochial up to that point. As 2011 began, the Tunisian revolution provided a new opportunity for internet activism, with the incumbent regime attempting to shut off the internet.
In what became known as Operation Tunisia, or #optunisia, Anonymous lent digital support to protestors against a regime accused of corruption and oppression. Instructions were issued to Tunisians to help them back online, and DDoS attacks brought several government websites down.
This foreshadowed Egypt and Libya, with politicians and the media increasingly aware of the power of the internet and social media to facilitate protest and revolt. By the end of the revolt, Anonymous could plausibly claim to have helped overthrow a government, albeit a vulnerable one.
5. HBGary Federal
Later in the same year, the chief executive of security firm HBGary Federal told the Financial Times he had infiltrated Anonymous, working out the names of key players in the movement. Aaron Barr’s comments were met with disbelief from the community, who quickly attacked the firm’s website, taking control of the email system and bringing down the phone lines.
Barr had overegged his intelligence on Anonymous, and the hackers found plans to discredit WikiLeaks through "cyber attacks, disinformation and other proactive tactics" against the website’s supporters, among them journalist Glenn Greenwald. Barr would later resign, but the incident provide important ammunition to anyone suspicious of American snooping, paving the way to later revelations from Edward Snowden.