Ex-Anonymous member worried that ‘OpRussia’ will hurt citizens

A Japanese former member of “Anonymous” expressed disappointment at the international hacking group’s “cyberwar” against Russia, saying the operation strays too far from the network’s original purpose.

He said he agreed to an interview with The Asahi Shimbun, his first with any media outlet, to voice his concerns that Anonymous appears to have forgotten its goal of helping the world’s citizens though “hacktivism.”

“Anonymous is no longer what it used to be,” he lamented.

Anonymous has long been motivated by sociopolitical causes, including pro-democracy movements in the Middle East.

The day after Russia invaded Ukraine, the group put Moscow in its line of fire.

“Our operations are targeting the Russian government,” the official Twitter account of Anonymous said Feb. 25. The cyberattacks would come under “#OpRussia.”

FAKE ACCOUNTS, MISINFORMATION

Several Twitter accounts subsequently emerged claiming to represent Anonymous.

On March 1, an account called @AnonUkraineAnon posted: “We hacked (a) nuclear reactor (in Russia) … and access (ed) (its) monitoring system.”

Skeptical of that statement, the Japanese man accessed the server allegedly for the reactor monitoring system and found fluctuating red meter bars that appeared to show temperatures of equipment units.

The man then hacked into the server to pin down what those meter bars represented. He learned that they had nothing to do with a nuclear reactor.

This post on a now-frozen fake Anonymous account falsely claims the group had hacked the monitoring system of a Russian nuclear reactor. (Tatsuya Sudo)

The tweet was spreading fake news.

The following day, one of several official Anonymous accounts said on Twitter: “Fake Anonymous account created a fake tweet about ‘hacking’ a nuclear reactor. … So many attention seekers using the Anonymous name for their own profit. ”

Twitter Inc. froze the fake account several days later.

The former Anonymous member said he has come across other fake information online.

A number of posts claimed that hacking had rendered inaccessible Russian government and corporate websites.

The man’s study found, however, that Russia had simply blocked foreign access to several of those sites, and they remained accessible from within the country.

“There is this flood of fake information by people pretending to be Anonymous,” the man said. “Something like this would have been unthinkable in our times.”

The man said he joined Anonymous around 2012. At the time, the group was waging cyberattacks against government institutions in Western and Latin American nations, inspired by the “Arab Spring” pro-democracy movements in the Middle East.

Those online attacks motivated by sociopolitical causes became known as hacktivism.

“We had this goal of helping citizens across national borders and political systems,” the man said.

CONCERNED ABOUT RUSSIAN CITIZENS

The man, however, said OpRussia “cannot be described as hacktivism as espoused by Anonymous.”

He said that when he was with the group, Anonymous members would conduct an extensive analysis of a proposed operation and discuss the wisdom of carrying it out based on the views of those who proposed the mission.

Members also emphasized “pinpointing” the targets to minimize collateral damage.

The Ukrainian government has called on the world to join an “IT army” to attack designated websites of Russia’s government, financial institutions and TV stations.

Anonymous said it hacked the Central Bank of Russia and obtained internal documents, which it said it would leak. The central bank denied its system was compromised.

The former Anonymous member said similar approaches will put entire websites and infrastructure in Russia under attack.

“That would only create internal disorder in Russia and bring suffering to its citizens,” he said. (But) there must also be citizens who oppose the war. ”

The man said taking part in OpRussia amounts to joining a cyberwar.

“The immature nature of the tactics being used and the low level of ethical awareness indicate that young people are taking part in this,” he said. “It’s like children having a hand in a war.”

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A Japanese former member of “Anonymous” during a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun (Tatsuya Sudo)

The man said that he and other former Anonymous members gathered in chat space immediately after OpRussia was announced.

They discussed the spread of fake information, which led the man to take up his study.

He said the former members were most alarmed that Anonymous’ goal of “helping citizens,” which was based on its own view of justice, had likely been forgotten.

Although the former members still keep their identities a secret, the Japanese man estimated they are in their 20s through 30s.

He said he smiled when he read what one of them said in the chat: “We have grown too old.”

Anonymous is believed to have originated from a cyberspace rally for internet freedom that started around 2003 on a US online bulletin board system.

As its name shows, it consists of an unspecified large number of unnamed individuals. Part of the group’s slogan says, “We are a legion.”

Japan has also been a target of Anonymous.

In 2012, Anonymous, protesting Japan’s penalization of illegal downloads, attacked the websites of the country’s Finance Ministry, Supreme Court, political parties and other institutions.

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