MasterCard, the Tea Party, and the Westboro Baptist Church have all been targeted by the hacker collective Anonymous. Now the group is going after a rising online threat: Child pornography rings. The underground campaign — dubbed "Operation Darkness" — vows to take down any sites "hosting, promoting, or supporting child pornography," the group says in a Pastebin post. Are they heroes, or scary online vigilantes? Here's what you should know:
Who is Anonymous targeting?
The hacker collective went after a web host called Freedom Hosting, which housed some 40 websites Anonymous said were being used to trade child pornography. The biggest was Lolita City, which allegedly had more than 100 gigabytes of child pornography. The sites used the underground Tor network to keep their traffic secret, but Anonymous members hacked into the web host's system and published login details for 1,500 people who had visited the sites.
Who is next?
Anonymous says anyone posting child pornography could face attack. "Our demands are simple," the group wrote in a statement. "Remove all child pornography content from your servers." Normally the hacktivists operate on their own, but in this case they're inviting authorities to work alongside them, says Matthew J. Schwartz of Information Week. In a YouTube video the group posted, it says: "If the FBI, Interpol, or other law enforcement agency should happen to come across this list, please use it to investigate and bring justice to the people listed."
So they're doing society a favor, right?
Some observers think so. "Regardless if you're a fan of Anonymous, it's definitely better to be out of its sight," says Zachary Sniderman of Mashable. Others, including security consultant Graham Cluley of online protection company Sophos, think otherwise: "Their intentions may have been good, but takedowns of illegal websites and sharing networks should be done by the authorities, not internet vigilantes."