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Anonymous and LulzSec: Robin Hoods of the Web?

Hackers are usually shadowy, secretive figures. So why are Anonymous and LulzSec dancing in the lime light, painting themselves as charismatic outlaws?

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The assault was sustained and brutal.

Over two weeks in late June and early July, the hacker groups known as LulzSec and Anonymous took turns tinkering with the websites of the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Fraternal Order of Police, releasing troves of personal information on local officers and taking both sites off-line temporarily.

In a series of communiqués issued by Anonymous, members of the organization explicitly linked the hack to Arizona's controversial anti-illegal immigration law SB 1070 and promised they would continue to target the DPS until the "racist Arizona police state" mended its ways. (The bill would criminalize being in the United States without immigration papers.)

The attack exemplifies a new breed of hacker, one skilled in both computer intrusion and public relations. While phone hacking has captured the media's attention in recent weeks, Anonymous and groups like it have shoved their way into headlines with increasing flair and frequency. For them, toppling networks equates to civil disobedience, something we know because LulzSec and Anonymous shout it from forums and message boards, wrapping themselves in the rhetoric of one of America's favorite folk heroes: the charismatic outlaw.

"Let [this] crushing blow against Arizona police send a strong message to the ruling class around the world," read one message. "You will no longer be able to operate your campaign of terror against immigrants and working people in secrecy. We will find you, expose you, and knock you off the Internet. Many lulz" – laughs – "have been had while we purposefully strung you along slowly and painfully for the past two weeks. We know exactly what we're doing, so think twice before considering crossing us."

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