By Mark A Gregory, RMIT University
High-profile hacktivist group Anonymous has turned its attention to fighting child pornography.
As a sign of what it pledges will become more widespread, the group this month launched an attack on a server by the name of Freedom Hosting. In doing so, the group claimed to have temporarily disabled more than 40 child pornography sites on a hidden network while publishing a list of more than 1,500 of those sites' usernames online.
Similar denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, we can assume, will follow in what anonymous is calling Operation Darknet, or #OpDarknet.
The move on Freedom Hosting forced the company to switch to back-up systems, although this was not effective – Anonymous attacked again and forced Freedom Hosting offline.
In a statement posted online, Anonymous claims to have evidence of Freedom Hosting’s guilt: “For this,” the statement reads, “Freedom Hosting has been declared #OpDarknet Enemy Number One”.
The group claims: “The owners and operators at Freedom Hosting are openly supporting child pornography and enabling pedophiles (sic) to view innocent children, fuelling their issues and putting children at risk of abduction, molestation, rape, and death.”
Anonymous claims its investigation into the “darknet”, including websites that permit the operators and users to hide their identities, led to the discovery that many of the child pornography links led to Freedom Hosting systems.
At a time when police and governments around the world are struggling to combat cyber crime, it’s interesting to see the continuing development of vigilante activism. The Wild West has been re-born on the internet.
Anonymous is well-known for hacking into corporate and government websites. The ever-evolving group has been associated with civil disobedience and hacktivism – targeting attacks on organisations across a spectrum of entertainment, religious organisations and businesses.
Of course, as is apparent in the name, one of the key goals of Anonymous is for its members to remain hidden from sight.
Society may applaud Anonymous in the first instance for attacking child pornographers, but concern must surely be raised that Freedom Hosting has been attacked in this manner without charge, trial and conviction.
In the YouTube video above, an eerie blend of voices representing Anonymous state: “Many of us have lingering traumatic images of the material that these pedophiles (sic) were hiding on the darknet.
“Anonymous took a pledge to defend the defenseless (sic) and fight for the fallen […] The darknet is a vast sea of many providers. However, we fully intend to make it uninhabitable for these disgusting degenerates to exist.”
The group’s online statement regarding the DDoS attack reads: “By taking down Freedom Hosting, we are eliminating 40+ child pornography websites, among these is Lolita City, one of the largest child pornography websites to date containing more than 100GB of child pornography.”
Clearly the guns are out of their holsters. Anonymous has vowed to continue to act, possibly because its members believe government is not doing enough to halt the transmission of child pornography over the internet.
And yet if the group had actual evidence of a criminal offence being committed by organisations utilising Freedom Hosting, most people might expect them to hand this information to the police and be prepared to support the investigation.
This matter should be followed closely to see what response there is from Freedom Hosting – not least by the authorities, who should investigate whether the Anonymous claims are correct.
Mark A Gregory does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.