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Privacy Perspectives | Who’s Anonymous Now? KKK Loses Its Digital Hoods Related reading: PII as a Weapon

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Earlier this summer, as the racially charged events unfolded in Ferguson, MO, Sam Pfeifle wrote about how hacktivist collective Anonymous used personally identifiable information (PII) as a weapon. To protect Ferguson protestors, Anonymous posted this in a video, “If you abuse, harass or harm any of the protestors … we will take every web-based asset of your departments and governments offline.”

Well, unfortunately, things are heating up once again in Ferguson. On Monday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced a state of emergency in anticipation of violence across the country as a grand jury finalizes its investigation of the police officer in question, Darren Wilson. Many expect the officer will not be charged in the shooting death of Michael Brown. If that happens, we could see a virtual replay of this summer’s violence.

Now, whether you think such a move only worsens the situation or not, Anonymous is back in the fray because, once again, protesters have been threatened online. This time, the assailants are the infamous hate group, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Late last week, a KKK chapter located 75 miles outside Ferguson warned protestors they’d use “lethal force” and even offered to set up neighborhood watch groups.

In response, Anonymous launched a cyber-war against the KKK, noting, “We are not attacking you because of what you believe in as we fight for freedom of speech … We are attacking you because of what you did to our brothers and sisters at the Ferguson protest on the 12th November.”

And so, once again, PII is being used as a weapon.

Klan members are being “doxxed”—having their personal information made public online—while KKK Twitter handles and websites have been overtaken by the hacktivist group. Information includes Klan identities, phone numbers and social media accounts. Anonymous has also started a spam campaign against KKK members, explaining, “We have compromised personal accounts (which gives us more faces), tied up their phone lines and filled every voicemail and inbox with love. We have barely scratched the surface, keep that pencil out…”

According to the latest update from ZDNet’s Violet Blue, Anonymous posted a new message, saying “members of Anonymous who seized the account are continuing to debate if the identities of the people associated with the Klan’s account should be released to the public,” adding, “We want to be sure we are ousting the right people. It would be against everything Anonymous does if we publicly released the information of the innocent…”

Clearly, this cyber-war has been at full speed.

Blue explains,

Since the takeover of both primary KKK Twitter accounts, Anonymous has been unrelenting in its focused attacks on the hate group's online presence. No one is surprised that the KKK is bad at both computer security and opsec.

Anonymous has kept the pressure on KKK websites ikkkk.com and TraditionalistAmericanKnights.com, both of which have been unable to resolve for at least 20 hours. The "Traditionalist Knights" website is apparently a CloudFlare customer, and the distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) protection service is noticeably struggling under the assault.

And now the KKK is asking its supporters for money and help to stymie the Anonymous attacks.

This cyber-war is revealing in several ways. As Sam pointed out a few months back, the value of personal information is clear. The KKK has always operated under a hood, fueled by hatred. Remaining anonymous, ironically, has been important for its members, so having their identities revealed must be damaging to their reputations (hopefully!). Plus, Anonymous is being careful of who it reveals because it doesn’t want to tarnish innocent reputations.

This is something that could not have been done 20 years ago, or even 10, before just about everyone had a social media presence and online microblogging platform like Twitter. And this is one of many cyber-wars being played out every day. Just today, for example, officials said they believe the U.S. State Department and White House hacks are tied together. Like airplanes in the first half of the 20th century, cyber-wars are the new form of battle around the world.

Plus, this cyber-war is being carried out in the name of those being discriminated against. Really, it highlights the double-edged nature of the Digital Age. On the one hand, big data has the potential to further discriminate against the less fortunate. That’s why the White House and the Federal Trade Commission have each focused efforts on preventing such discrimination.

Alternately, the Digital Age has provided a means for those who are discriminated against to counterattack oppressive groups. Of course, it’s not the Ferguson protestors who are leveraging this counterattack but the Robin Hood-like actors of Anonymous.

This is just one more, and dramatic, example of how our digital information is valuable and how power is being played out in the 21st century. Privacy is about power and control, and we see how it can be used to discriminate against people, but in this case, we also see how it can be used against the intolerant.

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