Gripping introduction to Anonymous

Issue 

Unmasked
By Nate Anderson
Ars Technica, 107 pages

What kind of a jerk would want to bring down WikiLeaks? The kind of socially inept and morally bankrupt arsehole that is Aaron Barr, CEO of internet security firm HBGary Federal.

This book documents Barr's WikiLeaks-whacking work, apparently for the US government, that brought him into contact with the Julian Assange-supporting hacktivist group Anonymous. It eventually led to Barr's downfall.

Barr thought he had hit upon a way to unmask hackers by identifying them through their social networking habits. Yet even his own staff were taking the piss out of what he thought was pioneering work.

"Throughout Barr’s research," says the book, "the coder he worked with worried about the relevance of what was being revealed. Barr talked up the superiority of his 'analysis' work, but doubts remained.

“An email exchange between the two on January 19 is instructive:

“Barr: [I want to] check a persons friends list against the people that have liked or joined a particular group.

“Coder: No it won’t. It will tell you how mindless their friends are at clicking stupid shit that comes up on a friend's page ... You keep assuming you’re right, and basing that assumption off of guilt by association.

“Barr: Noooo … its about probability based on frequency ... c’mon ur way smarter at math than me.

“Coder: Right, which is why i know your numbers are too small to draw the conclusion but you don’t want to accept it. Your probability based on frequency right now is a gut feeling. Gut feelings are usually wrong.”

Nevertheless, Barr pressed ahead. As his company bled cash, he managed to get a story in London's Financial Times saying he had found a way to unmask Anonymous. He then confronted the group online with his work.

Anonymous's response was to hack into his company's network, his Twitter account and iPad, publish all his emails and destroy 1 terrabyte of the company's backup files.

In one memorable exchange, an Anonymous hacker taunts Barr's ultimate boss, HBGary director Penny Leavy, with the words: “How does it feel to get hacked by a 16yr old girl?”

Anonymous's banter is often immature and offensive — in typical exchanges, they taunt their victims as "faggots" and tell them to "get aids and die slow and painfull". They make WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange look almost restrained and conservative.

Unmasked is a collection of articles, rather than a well-rounded book, so is repetitive in parts. Still, it works as a gripping introduction to WikiLeaks' possible successors and a group fighting for democracy in the most-cutting edge way possible.

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