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Anonymous draws Congressional attention; battles disgruntled members

Group responsible for the HBGary email thefts plays outing games with dissidents within, encourages overthrow of South African government

By , Network World
March 24, 2011 10:00 AM ET

Network World - When Anonymous attacked HBGary Federal back in January, it set off a chain of events that has spawned widespread fascination, fear, anger and some paranoia among the security industry, government, law firms, Congress and even Anonymous itself.

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The loosely strung collective gained its largest notoriety last year when it leapt to the defense of Wikileaks by attacking Web pages of businesses that helped break access to Wikileaks servers that hosted diplomatic cables stolen from the U.S. State Department.

But sustained interest in the group stems from its theft and publication by Anonymous of 71,800 emails from HBGary in retaliation for its CEO's plan to expose the names of Anonymous members.

The latest fallout is a call by U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) for Congress to investigate security firms Palantir Technologies and Berico Technologies both of which hold government contracts. Both were also mentioned in the HBGary emails as part of schemes to discredit Wikileaks, Salon writer Glenn Greenwald and opponents of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce including unions. "I think the investigation should proceed as far as the facts take us," says Johnson in an interview with

So far he's asked the Pentagon to supply copies of contracts it has with the firms, and it's not clear that the Pentagon will have to comply.

As for Anonymous, Johnson says he thinks the Internet needs laws to address activities like the HBGary email theft. "I think we have embarked into a lawless environment with our cyber capabilities now," he says, "and we really need to see what kind of laws are lacking and what laws need to be strengthened to punish any misconduct in cyber space."

Interestingly, he seems aligned with Anonymous in wanting to get to the bottom of some information that came out of the HBGary emails that showed that U.S. Central Command - the Pentagon group running the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - put out a bid for software that can create and manage multiple social network personalities. Central command says it's to counter violent extremist ideology and enemy propaganda and will be used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But both Anonymous and Johnson are worried what uses the software might be put to. Anonymous has launched what it calls Operation Metal Gear to investigate what the software does and why it's being developed. "We believe that Metal Gear [the Anonymous code name for the software] involves an army of fake cyber personalities immersed in social networking websites for the purposes of manipulating the mass population via influence, crawling information from major online communities (such as Facebook), and identifying anonymous personalities via correlating stored information from multiple sources to establish connections between separate online accounts, using this information to arrest dissidents and activists who work anonymously."

Since Anonymous claims responsibility for helping disrupt government Web sites in Egypt and other countries to lend support to uprisings, it falls into the category of those who might be arrested.

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