Stuff You Should Know | Podcast Review | December 2, 2015 | By

Stuff You Should Know: How Anonymous Works

Josh and Chuck dive in to the details behind the history of the world’s most famous hacker group.

When you go to a website, you are contacting the server to respond with information from the site. If you do this repeatedly, on the order of thousands of times, you can crash a website. It’s called a Distributed Denial of Service, or DDoS attack and is one of the most common forms of cyber warfare. The U.S. Gov’t has done this themselves, while simultaneously prosecuting its own citizens for conducting DDoS attacks of their own. This did not make Anonymous too happy.

Who’s Anonymous? And how can they think they can stand up against the U.S. government? Josh and Chuck dive in to the details behind the history of the world’s most famous hacker group.

Many people claim these DDoS attacks are a form of protest, for which punishment is disproportionate. Penalties for DDoS attacks can range from restriction of computer use to lengthy prison time. What’s clear is that cyber attacks, for good or ill, make for some complex scenarios for governments, justice systems and anyone that decides to piss off any half-way decent hacker.

Anonymous are some of the biggest anti-heroes we’ve got in the modern world. It makes me wonder if they’re the kind of weapon we need in the internet age. Like our own real life Batman or Robin Hood, can Anonymous do the things that the government can’t afford to? Their effectiveness certainly supports that argument 1

And that’s what makes Anonymous so interesting—their ability to take down “bad guys” on the internet, with brutal effectiveness. 2

How do we as a society deal with the repercussions of quasi-vigilantes defending the internet on their own terms? It’s a question that will only become more and more relevant amidst our increasingly digitalized society.

While they often carry out moral justice, there’s a lot of amoral consequences that Anonymous leave in their wake. The actions of a decentralized group has led to mixed results. Anonymous helped support free speech throughout the Arab Spring (good), pitted an entire town against itself during the Ohio rape case (mixed) and have been known to expose family members of people who have wronged them (bad).

The gray areas emerge in the collateral damage Anonymous wreaks. It is said there is no honor among thieves, but there are no rules among pirates 3, and that extends to vigilantes. Especially ones with no central command. Their ops that get the most press are the ones that make Anonymous seem more like Robin Hood, but there are some dark areas that Anonymous delves into.

Some of them simply create mayhem for mayhem’s sake, which Chuck emphasizes is a natural byproduct of a decentralized organization.

But I agree with Josh, in that the group’s decentralized nature makes their ability to coordinate and carry out successful operations so impressive. Moral implications aside, the group is fascinating just from an organizational behavior perspective.

While I don’t think we’ll see a Harvard Business Review case on them any time soon, the nature of their activities and the almost impossible nature of completely shutting them down makes it likely we will be hearing about Anonymous for significant period of time. They’re like the mythic Hydra, and are one that I imagine is only growing in size.

So Josh and Chuck, how does one join Anonymous? There’s no application. Can’t just drop your resume and hope they schedule an interview.

They encourage people getting involved in DDoS attacks and having people download the Low Orbit Ion Cannon 4 to support DDoS attacks. Eventually, you may stumble into one of their forums and start to hear about some active operations, you better be contributing to their cause.

Only then you can call yourself an “Anon”.

However, what was most surprising to me, was that your contributions don’t have to come in the form of coding or attacking. Many contributors are non-coding geeks and protesters. You could even just be a graphic designer. The structure is entirely flat, at least outside of specific operations.

It’s an incredible microcosm of the internet age of group protests. There doesn’t need to be a clear organization or hierarchy. And you are only as valuable as much as your contributions and your ideas help to boost the cause.

Josh and Chuck present Anonymous with a generally positive spin—though they are very clear to highlight the negative aspects of the group—and convinced me to check out at least one of the multiple documentaries that have been created about the group. This was one of my favorite episodes of the entire year.

How Public Relations Work: Josh does a great job selling public relations. I can’t even try and capture his enthusiasm, but he mentions mind control, Nazis, and other shocking features! And it’s still a mystery what is going on with Jeri!  So tune in for an entertaining live podcast, in this past weeks other episode from SYSK.

  1. For example, see recent success against Daesh/ISIL ^
  2. Additional examples include helping citizens during the Arab Spring to set up their own connections to the internet. Anonymous had a hand in Egypt and Tunisia, as political and social upheavals took place. Their fingerprints are on Ferguson, Occupy Wall Street, and even exposing a rape cover-up in the heartland of Ohio. ^
  3. this may be a quote of myself ^
  4. A program that allows even novice users to launch DDoS attacks ^

About the Author

Nick Wade is a founding writer at Audiologue, where he writes about The Sporkful and Stuff  You Should Know. You can find him at

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