Sony's Anonymous claim: a health warning
A flimsy item of 'evidence' not only distracts from Sony's security lapse but attempts to smear activist hackers as mere criminals
This week, Sony Corporation claimed to Congress that its investigation of the breach by which millions of customers had their credit card numbers compromised had turned up a document left on the server in question entitled "Anonymous" and containing the phrase "We are Legion", itself a fragment of our longtime slogan. Some have taken this as proof that Anonymous was responsible for the most significant online heists in memory. After all, the online activist movement has lately been engaged in a battle with Sony over its treatment of two individuals who taught others how to alter the PlayStation 3 in such a way as to install Linux OS on the gaming console, making Anonymous a natural suspect.
But those observers who are most familiar with who Anonymous is – such as the dozens of journalists who have been free to watch us at work in our operational venues – tend to agree with us that the circumstances of this incident are highly suspicious, and that any investigation into the crime in question must take into account the natural question of who might benefit from such an act – in other words, a party or parties who would have an interest in smearing Anonymous.
The perpetration of a crime for the purpose of framing another party and thereby damaging its reputation is hardly unusual. The FBI spent two decades operating a programme called COINTELPRO, by which agents would infiltrate "dangerous" groups, such as those advocating civil rights, and then promote violence by its members in order to discredit their cause in the eyes of the public and justify police crackdowns. A congressional committee that investigated the issue concluded that "the Bureau conducted a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of first amendment rights of speech and association."
Such practices continue today. It was only a few months ago that Anonymous's counter-investigation into a group of federal contractors including HBGary Federal, Palantir and Belrico revealed that the three companies – collectively known then as "Team Themis" – had prepared a plan to attack WikiLeaks to submit to law firm Hunton & Williams (retained by Bank of America, panicked over the prospect of a leak concerning its executives). The scheme was to consist of such things as disinformation, placement of fake documents, clandestine operations against WikiLeaks supporter Glenn Greenwald, and "cyber attacks against the infrastructure to get data on document submitters".
Of course, Anonymous itself engages in attacks of that latter sort. On the other hand, Anonymous does so against dictatorships and corrupt institutions that engage in corruption alongside the state – and when we do, the FBI raids the homes of our alleged participants. Not being as respectable as our corporate counterparts, we are not permitted to act with seeming impunity.