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Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous

Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous

Written by Gabriella Coleman

Narrated by Tavia Gilbert


Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous

Written by Gabriella Coleman

Narrated by Tavia Gilbert

ratings:
4/5 (15 ratings)
Length:
13 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jan 31, 2017
ISBN:
9781515986942
Format:
Audiobook

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Also available as bookBook

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Also available as bookBook

Description

Here is the ultimate book on the worldwide movement of hackers, pranksters, and activists that operates under the non-name Anonymous, by the writer the Huffington Post says "knows all of [Anonymous's] deepest, darkest secrets."



Half a dozen years ago, anthropologist Gabriella Coleman set out to study the rise of this global phenomenon just as some of its members were turning to political protest and dangerous disruption. She ended up becoming so closely connected to Anonymous that the tricky story of her inside-outside status as Anon confidante, interpreter, and erstwhile mouthpiece forms one of the themes of this witty and entirely engrossing book.



The narrative brims with details unearthed from within a notoriously mysterious subculture, whose semi-legendary tricksters-such as Topiary, tflow, Anachaos, and Sabu-emerge as complex, diverse, politically and culturally sophisticated people. Propelled by years of chats and encounters with a multitude of hackers, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy is filled with insights into the meaning of digital activism and little-understood facets of culture in the Internet age.
Publisher:
Released:
Jan 31, 2017
ISBN:
9781515986942
Format:
Audiobook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

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4.1
15 ratings / 6 Reviews
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  • (4/5)
    Gabriella Coleman, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Story of Anonymous: Free review copy. Coleman spent a lot of time in IRC chatrooms with various aspects of/members of Anonymous, as well as some in-person interviews with key figures. She clearly really likes them (“for the most part, a force for good in the world”) and wants them to represent an important political/cultural movement, though I think it’s too soon to tell. Her informants comprise a fairly racially and nationally diverse group, though she didn’t meet any cis women (she reports that trans women were “more common than one might imagine” in these hacker groups).The book is an insightful chronicle of community-building and -destruction in an environment that doesn’t reward persistent identities in the same way as the online communities with which I’m familiar. Anonymous hates BNFs, including people who purport to speak for Anonymous, and will try to shut them out; the highly distributed structure also made BNF-dom difficult. In fact, she suggests, the trolly things these anons did made anonymity the only way to build community, given the potential sanctions. At the same time, anonymity created fractures that could be and were exploited by law enforcement to “turn” a key player, leading to several arrests. (Speculation: like appropriation artists reacted to a culture of increasingly strong copyright/massification by copying exactly, Anonymous participants reacted to a culture of celebrity by casting off identity, at least in public.)Coleman maintains that we shouldn’t write off many of Anonymous’s political statements as teenage foolery, even though many participants are young; it’s interesting that here youthful rulebreaking gets framed by mainstream culture as extremely dangerous deviance, when other kinds of “boys will be boys” behavior is more tolerated, but that danger framing still denies the political arguments that Anonymous is sometimes making. When approached by law enforcement, many participants did exhibit naivete, youthful or otherwise—they spoke without demanding a lawyer. (Never talk to the cops.) The way that former leaders in Anonymous fell apart wasn’t necessarily natural to the form—the government had a hand in disrupting the groups that were getting things done. Once the disruption started, paranoia ran rampant.Unlike most countercultural groups that make a big splash, Anonymous wasn’t much at risk of being commodified, since the risk of being targeted for total information disclosure or other harm seemed great to established players. Instead, Anonymous is a rare success story for counter-commodification: taking a Hollywood symbol, the Guy Fawkes mask (yes, I know V for Vendetta was a comic first and I’m sure she does too, but that’s not relevant to her point), and reappropriating it. Coleman does note that Davos-style “thought leaders” did want to figure out what they could appropriate from Anonymous, even if the rewards couldn’t be direct, and writes bitingly about the cottage industry of advice-givers who convert every big news hook into a “formula for corporate success.” This lets corporate executives “feel great about what they do, strengthen corporate cultural machinsery, and make a lot of money off of culture that they don’t have to invest in.”Coleman has some great stories to tell, including talking to Canadian intelligence and hearing from them that jihadists wanted to replicate Anonymous’s media success—which since the book went to press seems to have happened. I found her hopes for the power of Anonymous to be overclaimed, at least for now; she wants to attribute more goodness to most of these for the lulz types than I think exists, and some of her informants even say they don’t know why they’re doing what they do. Nonetheless, others do engage in DDoS attacks and distribute leaked files in order to make political statements. And others engaged in spirited internal debate about the right political response to poor security with respect to citizens’ information (identity theft vulnerabilities) and too much secrecy with respect to government actions (Wikileaks). There were Anonymous participants who strongly rejected the idea that it was ok to release large chunks of personal information as an object lesson in how badly big corporations secure their data. Others looked for injustices large and small to fight, from Syria to Steubenville; Coleman argues that if vigilante justice is problematic, we should target the lax law enforcement that creates the gap into which vigilantes come. (That has some rhetorical force for underenforcement of rape law, though (1) Anonymous didn’t really ask whether victims wanted its help, and (2) sometimes vigilantes want to suppress conduct—or people—that shouldn’t be suppressed.)Because of the structure or lack thereof, there’s no final end to disagreements—only, at most, people can leave and form new nodes or backchannels to coordinate their own responses, which they often did. (As it turns out, hackers gossip and have personal feuds just like everybody else.) Anonymous ended up supporting persistent identities because that was the only way people could work together; because participants became friends or even more; and because people like to be known in some way.Coleman admits she’s romanticizing a bit, even if she distances herself from weev and the harrassment and literal Nazism that were just as much part of his identity as his more-palatable-to-liberals hacking credentials. In the end, she defends the value of “enchantment”—breaking free of ordinary constraints, imagining communities, and taking action to make the world different. Pleasure is political, and politics can be pleasurable, and she points out that we don’t talk about that enough. “By sacrificing the public self, by shunning leaders, and especially by refusing to play the game of self-promotion, Anonymous ensures mystery; this alone is a radical political act, given a social order based on ubiquitous monitoring and the celebration of runaway individualism and selfishness.”
  • (4/5)
    Gabriella Coleman took on the incredibly daunting task of studying and chronicling the mercurial, elusive hacktivist collective Anonymous and then sharing that research with the general public. And, astoundingly, Coleman mostly succeeds. She writes very clearly and speaks with authority and thoughtfulness on the many manifestations and iterations of the collective (which is more like the ever-changing blob in a lava lamp in terms of "structure"). Coleman also examines the political and social ramifications of hacktivism as well as the ethical paradoxes and conundrums that inevitably accompany Anonymous as a whole, an indulgence that would bog a less well-written book down. Coleman, however, successfully adds depth to the topic by exploring these questions. But for all that, the books suffers from a lack of editing. The last half of the book, which focuses on a dominant Anon's flip (yes, Sabu) into an informant by the FBI is compelling, beautifully written and riveting. However, it feels more like it should have been the beginning of the book, particularly since the first half of the book mentions Sabu's presence at a quasi-underground hacker convention as panel guest. That would have been more compelling had the details of his becoming an informant come first. Without the deeper context, however, Coleman's reference to seeing Sabu seemed like an impenetrable allusion to a half-told story. Technical explication, I suspect at times deliberately vague, could have been done a bit better, but then that wasn't the point of this book. Still, a simple glossary with Tor, TAILS, server, ISP, etc. better defined would've been useful for those who are less cyber-literate. Coleman's conclusion, one of the best parts of the book both in terms of content and writing, would have served far better as an introduction than the current one. There are other little things -- acronyms that aren't explained until their third or fourth mention, pseudonyms revealed after Coleman refers to the person by last name earlier, etc. -- but the information about Anonymous, government surveillance (based on deeply unsettling court documents and credible investigative reporting) and Coleman's own forays into private IRC channels successfully turn these into minor annoyances. Coleman threads the book together using the academic anthropological idea of the jester, but I think those references could either have been incorporated a bit better or done away with entirely (again, however, I think that has to do with her being an academic writer in her field). And to be fair, Coleman is an academic who challenged herself to break out of a very formal style of writing to convey information about a fascinating social phenomenon unlike any before it. And she had to do so after three years of following labyrinthine chats, intrigues and who knows what else. She ultimately succeeds in ingratiating herself with several of the "real" Anons (there is not really an Anonymous, real or false, as anyone can don the mask) lives to tell the tale and, indeed, does so well. I am glad to have read this book and it has served to begin a fascination with cyber-life/crime/activism etc. As previously stated, the last four chapters and conclusion are particularly good reading.
  • (5/5)
    This book shows well what the hacktivist culture is about. It shows events and episodes mainly about the activist/hacker/prank group Anonymous and illustrates both the good and the bad in the hacktivist movement.
  • (4/5)
    Well researched and very informative. There are some minor instances of inability to draw lines between personal opinions and verifiable information but it is only the standard for nowadays academics
  • (4/5)
    Anonymous is almost certainly not what you think it is. You have to live it to understand it, its implications, its functioning, and its place in society. Gabrielle Coleman lived it, as a fully disclosed academic anthropologist. This is her story as much as theirs.The structure of Anonymous is like the structure of the internet: multiple channels, multiple entry points, self healing patches, and lots of redundancy. (Also lots of swearing, lots of personal attacks, and lots of suspicions. Testosterone is involved.) This enables a totally flat organization to achieve in minutes what giant corporations and government take years to effect. The exhilaration, the joy, the satisfaction participants savor is incomparable. Anonymous is far more than a labor of love; it is idealists executing on their dreams. Everyone should be jealous.Gabriella Coleman hitched a ride on some of those dreams, and was clearly jealous. She goes so far as to express the compulsion, the adrenaline rush, and the thrill of watching it happen live. The characters are as richly detailed as any in fiction. There are heroes and villains, victims and survivors. There are plot twists and subplots. It covers roughly four years in which Coleman got close enough to many of the characters as to meet in person, something totally alien to the whole concept. Often as not, they confounded her assumptions.The story is a classic bell curve. At first there is confusion and commotion and random, unconcerted activity. They were in it for the entertainment value. As the participants refined their goals and their skills, they won many battles, notably Scientology, where they earned their stripes. They then took on and down whole governments. They had a purpose and a focus they described as the immune system of democracy. Then, with no higher levels to reach, destructive elements entered the picture, promoting vandalism for the sake of vandalism and its entertainment value (like the good ole’ days). Credit card theft became a factor. Certain participants got cocky and became spokespeople, against the rules. Chosen targets got wilder and riskier. The FBI flipped key players into informants. Efforts began to pay negatively, as governments poured money into detection and countermeasures. But the constant flow of fresh recruits, new issues and new inspirations mean Anonymous can scale different heights.So maybe it’s not a bell curve. Maybe it’s a sine wave. Anonymous will continue to mutate, to respond to the powers of the day, the events of the world and to the abuses of society, all of which are moving targets. Anonymous is structured perfectly to deal with that.There are too many unexplained references, some cultural, some academic, which especially in the fast changing world of cyberspace will prove ephemeral. It will make this book much less readable in years to come. For now it is a massively engaging peek into an idealistic ethos that can actually change the world. This is unprecedented, and very much worth understanding.And how has all this experience affected the author? For one thing, Coleman refuses to own a “personal tracking device”, aka mobile phone. Enough said.David Wineberg
  • (1/5)
    Don't read this book. It’s awful.A more apt title should be ‘Anonymous and I’, because the book, particularly the first half of it, does not strike me as being about Anonymous per se, but about Gabriella Coleman’s [Biella] relationship with Anonymous. I bring this up first because I recall reading that anthropologists should remove themselves as much as possible when describing the culture they participated in. And the whole damn thing reeks of ‘look what I did’. Biella puts herself into this books wherever she can, as if trying to prove to some higher powers that she is finally hanging out with the cool kids. And very often she does so rather shamefully. Consider the epigraph she inserts on chapter 6:“: There’s one thing which make me a bit bittersweet actually: Biella is here for college research: I can’t help feeling that as soon as she’s written her thesis or whatever the project is, she’ll have no further reason to hang out here :(: I don’t think she realizes how much she’s contributed to Anonymous: Even if she doesn’t see herself as part of it necessarily“And just to ring the irony bell while she is at it, this is the same chapter that later goes on to talk about ‘namefagging’. One wonders if Anonymous appreciate this level of back-patting for every anthropologists who waltzes through the door. But what’s worse is that this quote proves absolutely nothing. If you think this is meant to establish something about the character of anonymous, you would wrong. This quote comes on the 177th page of the hardback, and it has already been well-established that at this point Biella is entrenched with the Anons. Of course they are going to say something nice about you. This quote is little more than a verbose form of the tautology ‘Friends are friendly to friends’. Really? You don’t say.There is another choice example of self-aggrandizement. A little later, Biella even manages to plug an older book:“I had recently published my book on free software “hackers,” Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking, and it seemed that these InfoSec word warriors thought I had a narrow understanding of the term, one that omitted their world. But, my understanding of the term is much more nuanced than they realized. My definition includes free software programmers, people who make things, and also people who compromise systems – but that doesn’t mean they have to all be talked about at the same time. My first book was narrowly focused.”Are you kidding me? First off, I bought a book about Anonymous. I could care less about the semantic arguments you have about your book. Second off, you are wrong in your argument. Words are arbitrary symbols for meaning, and they can mean whatever we want them to mean. But they do not take meaning by the fiat of academics, they take meaning that are mutually agreed on but society as a whole, thought the forces at work in this process are complicated and illusive. You can call a spoon a ‘fork’ if you like. Nothing about the word /spoon/ is more spoon-like than the word /fork/. But when you got a restaurant and insist the server bring you a ‘fork’ so that you can eat your soup, don’t be upset when they bring you an elongated piece of metal that terminates in four prongs. You can call people who make free software ‘hackers’ if you like, but you’re alone in doing so, and you deserve to be called out for your foolishness.The book seems to want to suggest that it is targeted to a more academic audience, though it strikes me as not knowing how to do so. The book explains the obvious terminology that anyone most lay people would understand, but then drops that horrendous academic jargon that is nothing but ten-dollar idea word filler. On page 19 the book takes a moment to define for the audience what ‘trolling’ is, but later on page 40 it goes right by ‘Deleuzian sensibilities’ as if everyone was stupid enough to have wasted their time reading A thousand Plateaus. Not everyone who picks up a book on Anonymous want to waste their time researching postmodern nonsense.As a last point, though one I think is very important, I do not think Biella did a lot of research on this book, which further drives home my suspicion that the tome is little more than a memoir dressed up in academic clothing. Certain little details are wrong, and when it comes to books like this which are collection of thousands of little details, you wonder if the whole picture is not corrupted, and not just the individual pixels. The author mentions Slab City, which is in California, not Colorado as the author says. She also mentions how the members of Anonymous used the movie Gayn*ggers from Outer Space as something of an inside joke, naming one of their own associations in a similar fashion. Biella describes the movie as a porno. It isn’t, and I know this because I have seen the movie. It is a parody of a Blaxploitation movie. There is never one pornographic scene in the whole thing. To call it such just demonstrates not only that you didn’t see the movie, but that you didn’t care to do two seconds of research to consult Wikipedia about the nature of the movie. Perhaps she was misinformed by the contacts she made at Anonymous as to the nature of the movie. Well, that would have been an interesting detail to include in your book, and thus she still had no excuse as to not have double checked the information she was getting. I have a very minor journalism job, and I cannot imagine a situation where I would not have researched a bit of information like that.