Book Review: We Are Anonymous: Inside the Hacker World of LulzSec, Anonymous, and the Global Cyber Insurgency by Parmy Olson
I saw author Parmy Olson on The Daily Show back in 2012. Her overview of her research into the hacker world of Anonymous and her discovery that most of these hackers were not technically accomplished got my attention.
This subculture fascinates me. How does the underbelly of the Internet work? How dark is the dark net? Who pulls all of these various strings? And ultimately, how secure is our data? How secure are we as individuals and as a nation?
Through Olson’s chronological history of the group Anonymous, I learned that this group is not really the loosely-held together organization with no leader that many would have me believe. Anyone who wants to be a member merely has to claim their association. That being said, I will refer to them as a group or organization because I don’t have another term to describe their anti-structure, anti-establishment arrangement.
Many of the people claiming to be in Anonymous have more social engineering skills than hacker skills. These mostly discontented teen and twenty-something males troll social media sites where scores of information is volunteered, and then contact people to massage and manipulate. They dupe people out of passwords using old fashioned con techniques. And their main motivation? The lulz, or doing a prank to humiliate someone online for fun.
Here’s one of the most disturbing quotes from one member talking with another about how Anonymous had changed him: “‘It’s made me a more extreme version of myself,’ William said. ‘I used to sleep badly. Now I sleep terribly. I used to be sarcastic. Now I can be an asshole.’ He didn’t just like tormenting people; he loved it.”
The level of detachment displayed about the effects of their online raids and pranks just makes my skin crawl. These same two group members, Jake and William, are asked by a woman how to access the restaurant’s wifi and their in-person responses are perfectly polite. What kind of two-faced individuals are we breeding and raising?
The vulgarity and crudeness displayed in their raids extends to their dealings with one another as well. They use the term “fag” in different ways to label various personality types within their organization. The online conversations between members reported in this book are riddled with tasteless comments. Structurally and psychologically, it’s a great first layer of security for them. Anyone appalled by their conversations is a killjoy whose presence is not valued. The lowbrow level of their interactions weed out the unwanted.
The bright side is that these maladjusted youths (In this context I pronounce youths as Joe Pesci did in My Cousin Vinny) have short attention spans. The more layers of security you throw at them, the quicker they get bored and move on.
Do these activists have a political agenda? Not a consistent one, but Olson points out that the non-structure of this group makes it adaptable to any future. Where they go is unpredictable. My question now: When is she writing a follow-up?
Olson connects events well and mainly sticks to the timeline of how these groups evolved. There were many names of various Anonymous and LulzSec personalities to keep track of. And their stories are compelling. Sometimes, she would visit “Tangentland" about a certain player or detail and I would find my mind wandering as I listened to the audiobook. Ultimately, her research all ties back into how the key players in Anonymous and LulzSec were tracked down, but sometimes the writing got long.