While shells and interceptor missiles started flying between Israel and Gaza, Anonymous did what it does best: swore vengeance against a superpower. It had some swagger at first. But as the days go by, we're seeing a weak, confused Anon, not a group of internet freedom fighters.
If you need proof, just look at their sad, confused chatroom.
In the hacker brigade's own words, "November 2012 will be a month to remember for the Israeli Defense Forces and internet security forces. Israeli Gov. this is/will turn into a cyberwar." That's a stern threat. And so far, an almost completely hollow one.
Anonymous has never been a well-run organisation — it's at its best and most fundamental when it isn't really organised at all. That's what used to make it so dangerous; thousands upon thousands of hive-minded hackers and hack-minded who would DDoS on command and break website security for the cause. Emerging from this mess was LulzSec, an elite and independent Delta Force of Anons, commanding respect among sympathisers and fear among corporations. They got things done — giant things, like embarrassing major credit cards, dumping gigantic data leaks like clockwork, and even knocking down the CIA's website.
And then everyone went to prison.
Today, Anon lacks the talent and semi-cohesion it once boasted across the internet, and its most recent online crusade is an embarrassing reminder. This is less a war than the hacker equivalent of egging someone's house and then smoking weed on the street.
What's the collective accomplished so far in its anti-IDF campaign?
- Anonymous defaced or deactivated over 600 websites belonging almost entirely to Israeli small mum and pop businesses, without any clear connection to the IDF's campaign against Gaza. Pretty much anything with a .il domain suffix. Some notable takedowns include a small psychological therapy practice, and a company that provides Jeep tours. Anon claims to have punted the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs via DDoS, but the site wasn't down for any appreciable time — a pattern across the non-pissant attacks the group took responsibility for.
- A dump of personal information — "OVER 3000 ISRAEL SUPPORTER HOME PHONE WORK ALSO US SENATORS." It's hard to say what exactly the hell that means.
- Over 2,000 email addresses and passwords of ordinary nobodies associated with an Israeli real estate website, leaked, without purpose or meaning.
- The official site of Israel's President, Shimon Peres, does look to be down — an attack Anon of course says is their doing. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would've been a more desirable target.
In other words, not much. If this were a hacker collective under any other name, we'd hardly take notice. Where are the shocking DDoS manoeuvres? Where are the defaced home pages of sites people might actually visit? Where are the hijacked Twitter accounts?
But it's not like the hackers aren't trying — sort of. Their official IRC is a strange mix of gravitas and the scene when a fourth-grade teacher leaves the room and puts one of the kids in charge. Paranoia is rampant (though there surely are Feds monitoring the place), trolling is incessant, as is anti-Semitism, all-caps tirades, confusion, deliberate misinformation and platitudes. You would never mistake an Anonymous chatroom for the Oxford Union, but in the past, there was at least an air of cooperation — as if the group more or less agreed on an agenda and had the capacity to pull it off. But OpIsrael is rudderless.
With no Sabu figure, and little moderation, any jackass is free to pop in and derail.
Derail what exactly? A lot of network naiveté.
Some second guessing.
People screaming over each other, cluelessly.
Desperate attempts to organise.
Meanwhile, #OpIsrael's ostensible main target remains untouched.
A feckless, hamstrung Anonymous isn't anything new, post-Lulzsec. Anyone with the brains and bravery to do something like hack a major government military contractor or trounce Sony is either in the hands of the cops, or afraid of winding up there. But with so much big, brazen talk surrounding this campaign, you have to wonder how much longer Anonymous will be able to glide on bluster and reputation. Or whether there's a new Sabu out there somewhere about to actually pound the IDF online.
Photos: lanych/Shutterstock, Steve Snowden/Shutterstock