Anonymous Collateral Damage

Once again Anonymous is releasing the personal data of a host of random private individuals, in the name of fighting for freedom. Over the weekend they hacked various Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) systems in retaliation for BART shutting down cellular services at several stations last Thursday to avoid a potential protest. It seems like the “regular people” are the proxies in this battle. In both cases they were the ones to suffer, both at the hands of BART and Anonymous. In neither case did they have anything to do with the issue.

BART claims they had information related to a potential protest the was being coordinated on Thursday. Further, they claim that a protest creates a safety issue for BART passengers, therefore they are justified in suspending freedom of speech (vis-a-vis cellular service) because they believe safety trumps civil liberties. As you may have guessed, I feel that’s a pretty specious argument. There are various groups looking into a variety of remedies and legal action related to this issue, and the courts are the right place to tackle this problem.

Like petulant children, Anonymous feels that it’s better to work outside the system. Innocent bystanders are of no concern – “If I can’t have it my way, no one gets to play”. In all likelihood the outcome of legal action will result in a change or clarification of policy, and may even cause a few heads to roll at BART, as they should. Hacking on the other hand will do nothing to stem the problem. The funny thing is, it’s easy to sympathize with Anonymous on the surface, since they claim to be taking on the evil government for the little people. Why then are their target consistently users of the organizations they attack, and not the organizations themselves? This is the same tactic as when they went after Sony, but instead released credentials for thousands of customers, cause little problem for Sony, but a huge problem for many innocent bystanders. Some Anonymous members say that it wasn’t them, but LulzSec is a spin-off, so this is like saying the US Army didn’t attack, it was just Delta Force. The two organizations are intertwined.

The truth is if you look back at the attacks, the ones that cause the most problems are consistently related to publishing the private information of individuals. Organizations can easily weather a web outage for a couple of hours, or repair their home page from silly graffiti. But end-users can end up as victims of identity theft, have bank accounts ravaged, and more. Problems difficult to deal with and unrelated to their personal behavior, other than the bad luck to patronize an organization that Anonymous doesn’t like. In the case of Sony, maybe users could choose a different gaming system, but is that really the goal? Maybe Anonymous is pushing X-box? Ridiculous of course. In the case of BART – what choice do commuters have? Does Anonymous prefer they use their cars to go to work, increasing traffic congestion and pollution? If not, why attack people who use BART.

Anonymous talks a good talk but until they start behaving like responsible individuals, it’s difficult to see how the world would be a better place if they got their way.

[Update 2011-08-15]
As expected, the FCC is reviewing the cellular shutdown.
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[Update 2011-08-17]
Anonymous has hacked BART police officer accounts once again avoid those really responsible and harming the little guy.
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[Update 2011-08-19]
A member of Anonymous has quit the group and says that it’s members are hypocrites. He says “Does anon have the right to remove the anonymity of innocent people?” and “Truth Is Anonymous Hasn’t Brought Down Governments. The People Have.” Worth a read.
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[Update 2011-08-20]
A member of anonymous spoke with the Cisco Security blog and says “Getting files and giving them to WikiLeaks, that sort of thing, that does hurt governments. But putting user names and passwords on a pastebin doesn’t [impact governments], and posting the info of the people you fight for is just wrong.
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[Update 2011-09-21]
Apparently the FBI have arrested a few more LulzSec and Anonymous members. The release says that one of them is the person responsible for the Sony attack.
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