Duck And Cover

Ben Jackson interviews Luke Harder

Hacker, Anonymous

They are the world’s most infamous hackers – known for attacking ISIS with images of rubber ducks and with a long list of hacking victims that includes Donald Trump, child pornographers, The Church of Scientology and the city of Sacramento. They claim hackers can train in just five years and their simple slogan threatens: “We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.” Here – using a pseudonym – 34-year-old Anonymous member Luke Harder challenges the damages companies claim they suffer after being hit by hackers. The LA-based hacker also reveals why any “High School student with a C average” is clever enough to join the underground group and why the Internet is not the answer to all the world’s problems.

So Anonymous – politically-motivated campaigners or the Internet’s chief mischief makers?

What the original people involved with Anonymous did was pranks. There wasn’t any raw fibre to it. It was just to be funny. (For the lulz). So that’s always been a theme of people who have been with the organisation for a long time. If you take things too seriously it takes the enjoyment out of it. To be fair, I’m not part of the group that was in it just for fun. I didn’t become interested in Anonymous until it was standing up for something. It was standing up for Pirate Bay (a file sharing site) and quickly afterwards Wikileaks as well.

So the humour stops it feeling like a moral mission?

A lot of times, the things Anonymous does are just to attract attention. In the grand scheme of things most of it doesn’t have a huge effect.

When a company or institution gets hacked, the damage numbers are inflated on the company’s behalf. They’re collecting insurance and they’ll say a hack cost them $3m. Yeah, right! They were already paying their IT guys $67,000 a year. They pay them some overtime to work 36 hours straight to get everything back up, maybe they had a consulting fee for $150,000 to an outside company – these things are inflated.

The real impact is the attention and that is so much better if something is funny or fun or humorous – as opposed to some serious message. It’s like ‘Oh God, we’re sick of serious messages’ – and I’m speaking from the public’s point of view too. Think how much more entertaining it is to read an article where somebody changed someone’s website to something funny. It works much better. If you make people think it’s funny – you won’t make people sick of it. But there’s a bit of a divide amongst people in the group who insist that they’re for laughs and people who are too upset to laugh anymore.

Does that mean that attention is the guiding principle above everything?

More or less. There’s definitely some damage element to it too. Sometimes the goal is to hurt the enemy who is getting attacked, but a lot of times it’s just to get some attention on the issue. Isn’t that the idea with any protest? It also helps to create a brand, so there’s a common theme running through all of this.

How do you translate public sympathy into recruiting members? Is recruiting important?

I’m not aware recruiting exists. It’s more like the recruiting is done as a safeguard, because we know people are coming in and we are trying to save those people from themselves. That’s why there are guides for people. If you want to be Anonymous, there’s a guide on how to hide your identity, and how to use Virtual Private Networks. Those guides are put out more to save those people than for recruiting, because it would be bad for the brand if a bunch of people tried to become Anonymous and they all went to jail.

But then there’s no shortage of Anonymous members who have gone to jail.

It would be interesting to compare the number of people who have gone to jail versus the number who have been arrested and which of those are confirmed members of Anonymous. We could compare it to the incarceration rate of an average country. What would those numbers be? Maybe there is a shortage of people being arrested? I mean maybe our percentage is really small!

But you’re not like a country. You’re an organisation.

You have to think about the definition of that. People use that world wrongly. An organisation means there is organisation. If you just have a bunch of stuff together in a pile, that’s just a pile right? It’s not organised, it’s not alphabetised, it’s not sorted by colour. There’s no organisation, it’s just a pile!

That has to bring limitations. It’s hard enough getting agreement when there are just five people in a room.

But that’s just the thing. Organisation amongst people inevitably requires a shift of power.

It requires those in the lesser positions in the organisation to give up their power to someone else. So if you abandon the organisation everyone has an equal amount of power, which is what democracy really should be. It’s an experiment in democracy in its purest form. The only thing that can affect it is a person’s voice.

Does that work in practice?

You tell me? Something is working – we’re talking. If you went and told your editor, “I’m really sorry, but I p-ssed that guy off something fierce,” he’d be f-cking scared right? He wouldn’t have any right to be, because I’m not that type of person in general and it’s purely hypothetical, but I would say what we have constructed or created is working quite well.

“It’s an experiment in democracy in its purest form”

The ISIS campaign is interesting. That’s a big thing to go after.

They’re just people. Can Anonymous stop ISIS? No – the only effect we have is on the internet and communications, but compared to a government agency we’ve got the manpower.

How do you work within and without the law? There must be some consideration of how far you can go or not?

That consideration is only weighed in risk. How badly do you want to avoid being locked up? The question is what are you willing to risk for this cause. There are things that are not as risky to some people as they are to others.

In terms of the technical skill level of those working for Anonymous, is it on a par with anything out there?

It’s on a par with a High School student with a C average.

Explain?

The actual technology and knowledge required to hide your identity fits on a single sheet of paper. That’s not hard. Actually hacking something, that requires skill. It’s going to take some practise and some quality hardware. (Anonymous training guides suggest five years of study)

We are increasingly seeing people renting hacking programmes off the shelf which they can or can’t operate. Is that something you have a view on?

It’s tough because it’s a situation that makes a lot of people have a desire to create a law around it, because it can have a malicious effect. When you study something and learn it – you learn to have a respect for it. Much like someone who has been crafting and milling revolvers for a lifetime. He’s the last person who is going to misuse a revolver. He’s got respect for it. Then when you give that revolver to somebody who is not very bright and doesn’t have any respect for it, something bad’s probably going to happen.

So can laws help keep malicious people from doing damage on the Internet?

Legislation will never keep up with technology, largely because the people making legislation don’t know a goddamn thing about technology. There’s no way they can make laws to contain it if they don’t understand it. It would be like someone who had no concept of the Laws of Physics trying to make laws about how people can move.

Here in the UK, the Government is justifying the fact that they can monitor all communication. Do you believe people are trying to limit your freedoms and that governments don’t get it?

It’s not that they don’t get it, they’re terrified! We’re taking power away from them. Once they gained the ability to effectively just open your mail – because that was the only communication other than face-to-face that anybody had for a long time – once they gained it, losing that becomes terrifying. That gave them such an enormous edge, so how could you ever relinquish that?

Is it the case that many types of encryption are now beyond the security services ability to read them?

Yes, but that’s something that constantly evolves. Ask any locksmith. If you don’t keep up you’ll go out of business. You have to keep making a better lock. It’s an endless cycle. It’s the only part of capitalism that can experience endless growth. The Internet keeps changing, so you have to keep updating and you have to keep changing your protection.

That will have a bearing on the Internet of Things. Are people right to fear the possibilities?

It’s like being afraid of being hit by a meteor. You can’t walk around in fear all the time. Enjoy the technology. Your dishwasher may go awry because someone hacked it, but it’s not going to become some epidemic. If it does, those products just won’t be successful. 

The Internet is something we have appreciated and loved, but aren’t we going to have to learn to fear it more too?

I don’t know if fear is the right word. I think respect would be a better word. Why on earth do we need the Internet hooked up to the goddamn water supply? The water supply has worked fine for years, I don’t see what good that does.

So we draw lines between what we do and don’t want to tamper with?

Absolutely. Not so long ago there was a test on the new Jeep Grand Cherokee. Somebody driving along next
to one doing a stunt for a magazine hacked into the control system from the car driving beside it. It was terrifying what was possible. Why is anything besides the radio hooked up? Do you know what I mean? 

Anonymous. Are they a force for good?

As a society we generally assume that people are inherently good. It would be hard to assume that Anonymous is anything other at this point.

And that’s why you would want to be a part of it?

I think it’s an effective tool against those who would consolidate power.

Do you like being called hacktivists?

Well it’s clever. It’s a misnomer, but it’s kind of too late to change the name. I don’t really care for it, but it’s like hover boards. It’s not actually a hover board, but it’s too late to change the name now. You might as well get with it. I reserve the word ‘hacker’ for the elite. If you look at the internet as a separate society, a hacker is like a superhero – you’re able to alter reality in a way a normal citizen cannot.

There’s a really good analogy to describe this. Anonymous is like a flock of birds – at any point a bird can fly up out of a tree and join the flock or go land on a street lamp. The only thing that makes the flock of birds a group is that they’re headed in the same direction.

ANONYMOUS ATTACKS

THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY 2008 – Anonymous’ first widespread example of activism came after waging war on the church – warning the group it would be ‘expelled from the Internet’ and launching DDoS attacks, prank-calling its hotline and sending black faxes to waste ink along with thousands protesting in Guy Fawkes masks from the film V for Vendetta.

PIRATE BAY 2009 – Anonymous hit back after an Indian software firm, Aiplex Software, was contracted by film studios to launch DDoS attacks on websites hosting pirate content, like Pirate Bay. Together they shutdown the firm’s website and then targeted the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America posting the message: ‘Payback is a bitch.’

WIKILEAKS 2010 – As Wikileaks released hundreds of thousands of leaked US diplomatic cables, Amazon, PayPal, MasterCard and Visa cut off its services. Anonymous hackers brought down PayPal and hit Visa and MasterCard sites.

SONY APRIL 2011 – Anonymous attack Sony for trying to stop hacks into the PlayStation 3 consule. More than 100 million Sony accounts were compromised and services were taken down for a month apiece by cyber attacks.

LOLITA CITY 2011 – Anonymous takes down more than 40 illegal child pornography websites. The hackers specifically targeted Lolita City, a file-sharing site used by paedophiles, and leaked the names of the site’s 1,589 active members to the public.

TAMIR RICE 2014 – Anonymous shut down the website of the police in Cleveland, Ohio and posted a video following the death of Tamir Rice, 12, a boy with a BB gun shot by a police officer in a Cleveland park. Anonymous also uncovered the phone number and address of a policeman involved in the shooting.

ISIS 2015 – Anonymous announced a major operation against ISIS after the Paris attacks, declaring, “Anonymous from all over the world will hunt you down. You should know that we will find you and we will not let you go.” ISIS responded with a telegram calling them “idiots,” and asking, “What they gonna hack?” Anonymous photoshopped pictures of rubber ducks in place of ISIS fighters, spammed twitter feeds with cat memes and replaced one site with an advert for Viagra. It claimed to have taken down 3,824 pro-ISIS Twitter accounts – later increasing that to 20,000 although the list was later found to include many inaccuracies.

DONALD TRUMP 2015 – Anonymous attack the website for Trump Tower in New York after the Presidential hopeful proposed that all Muslims be blocked from entering the US.

SACRAMENTO 2016 – Hackers release a video warning of consequences for the city of Sacramento if the city does not lift its ban on urban camping, a measure it called a ban on the human right of sleeping – and seen as an anti–homeless measure.