Anonymous has risen from an obscure collection of pranksters to arguably the most powerful and mysterious computer hacking group operating today.
"We Are Anonymous" is a new book by Forbes London bureau chief Parmy Olson. She says, "A year ago, it was very common for them to take down a website, deface it, paralyze that website for a few hours. Nobody really does that anymore. Now what they try to do is find a vulnerability and an online database and steal thousands or millions of email addresses and passwords and just post that online as a kind of sign that they've been able to infiltrate someone or some higher authority."
Anonymous, says Olson, doesn't run with military precision.
Olson: There's lots of infighting between its supporters, what you call e-drama. It's such a fast-paced frenetic world that you'll be working on one hack or one operation one day and then something else comes up the next day, a completely different opportunity to attack someone else, and it's just one thing after another. People actually need to take a break from it for months at a time and then come back, and it's just ever shifting and it's why it's a fascinating kind of example of a leaderless kind of - not an organization, but a movement. I think Anonymous kind of is a great almost a look to the future of how organizations might open themselves up more and work in a much more fluid kind of fashion.
Moe: Organizations modeling themselves after Anonymous?
Olson: I don't think to that extent, not exactly, but some of the things that Anonymous does, so for instance, the way they work so flexibly in small groups, this decentralization of power, that can actually make an organization very effective and resilient. There was a book out a few years ago called "The Spider and the Starfish and the Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations," and Anonymous is like a starfish. If you try and beat it, if you cut off one leg, another one will grow back. You arrest one and two more pop back up.
If the Internet is still the Wild West, Anonymous is a bunch of outlaw cowboys, says Olson. "And we know from history that the cowboys eventually died out, and whether that kind of disruption will die out online as well, whether people just get bored with it and move on and get jobs, I wouldn't be surprised if that happens, but I do think that Anonymous has heralded a new way of protesting online which can be great for young people who are sort of apathetic and kind of need a gateway to political activism and for people in repressive regimes as well where it's difficult to go out and be an activist, this kind of is almost a safer way to make a point."
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