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What is Anonymous? The group went from 4chan to cyberattacks on Russia

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For nearly two decades, one of the world’s most infamous hacker groups has operated under the name “Anonymous.” And the mysterious online community is making headlines once again.

After Russia invaded Ukraine at the end of February, a Twitter account with 7.9 million followers named “Anonymous” declared a “cyber war” against Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. Since then, the group has claimed responsibility for various cyberattacks that disabled websites and leaked data from Russian government agencies, as well as state-run news outlets and corporations.

Often called “hacktivists,” Anonymous employs coordinated cyberattacks against various world governments, corporations or other groups, often in the name of social or political causes. In a Feb. 24 tweet, the “Anonymous” account — which says it “cannot claim to speak for the whole of the Anonymous collective” — called on hackers around the world, including in Russia, to “say ‘NO’ to Vladimir Putin’s war.”

Over the years, actions linked to Anonymous have inspired both Hollywood filmmakers and other hacker groups around the world. Here’s a look at the murky group’s origins, some of its most notable cyberattacks and the philosophy that allegedly steers its decisions:

Anonymous origins

Anonymous’ origin story begins in the online message forums of 4chan, the anonymous social community website founded in 2003. Even today, posts on 4chan from users who don’t specify a username are labeled as written by “Anonymous.”

In the website’s early days, users often organized group pranks called “raids,” flooding chat rooms in games and other online communities to cause disruptions. 4chan began cracking down on the raids after critics accused participants of cyberbullying and posting offensive content.

Those raids formed the basis of Anonymous’ operations: a decentralized movement of like-minded online users who would communicate in encrypted chat rooms to plan online disruptions. At first, those plans were largely about cheap entertainment. Eventually, they began to revolve around social or political aims.

The group’s most prominent early instance of “hacktivism” came in 2008, when 4chan users led by early Anonymous hacker Gregg Housh launched a coordinated effort against the Church of Scientology, using tactics like denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on the church’s websites, prank phone calls and faxing the church black pages to waste their printer ink.

The cyberattacks, which Anonymous labeled “Project Chanology,” were retaliation for what the hackers deemed as attempted censorship: The church had legally threatened Gawker after the media outlet published a leaked video of actor Tom Cruise speaking enthusiastically about Scientology.

A series of worldwide protests against Scientology soon followed, with many Anonymous-supporting protesters wearing white-and-black Guy Fawkes masks, depicting the 17th century British insurrectionist. Those masks have since become closely associated with hacking group.

Philosophy and targets

Generally, Anonymous opposes governments and corporations that it views as participating in censorship or promoting inequality. Since the group is decentralized, it has no real structure or hierarchy — so there’s often much internal debate about which ideas or causes to support.

A pinned 2019 tweet on the @YourAnonNews Twitter account – which, again, claims not to speak for the collective as a whole – describes Anonymous members as “working class people seeking a better future for humanity.” It lists Anonymous’ guiding principles as “freedom of information, freedom of speech, accountability for companies and governments, privacy and anonymity for private citizens.”

Since “Project Chanology,” Anonymous members have targeted a long list of parties, including:

Authorities around the world have arrested dozens of hackers with alleged ties to Anonymous, including at least 14 people charged with hacking PayPal in 2011. Barrett Brown, a journalist and self-professed Anonymous spokesperson, served more than four years in prison after a 2012 arrest on charges related to cyberattacks and threatening a federal officer.

The collective’s activities trailed off after some of those arrests, but resurfaced last year when Anonymous claimed responsibility for hacks targeting the Republican Party in Texas, in protest of the state’s controversial abortion law. Anonymous also claimed responsibility for a September hack of web-hosting company Epik, which leaked more than 150 gigabytes of data on far-right groups like QAnon and the Proud Boys.

Supporters and critics

In 2012, Time magazine named Anonymous one of the world’s 100 Most Influential People. Today, millions of people follow Anonymous-affiliated social media accounts.

Jeremiah Fowler, a co-founder of the cybersecurity company Security Discovery, told CNBC last week that Anonymous’ supporters likely view the group as somewhat of a “cyber Robin Hood,” targeting powerful governments and corporations in the name of popular causes.

“You want action now, you want justice now, and I think groups like Anonymous and hacktivists give people that immediate satisfaction,” Fowler said.

But Anonymous definitely has critics. Many believe the group’s vigilante tactics are extreme and potentially dangerous. In 2012, the National Security Agency deemed Anonymous a threat to national security.

Parmy Olson, a journalist who wrote a 415-page book on Anonymous in 2012, stated at the time that even the group’s supporters should consider its legacy a mixed bag.

“Has Anonymous done good for the world? In some cases, yes,” Olson told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, citing Anonymous’ support of pro-democracy demonstrators in the Middle East. “Unnecessarily harassing people? I would class that as a bad thing. DDOSing the CIA website, stealing customer data and posting it online just for sh-ts and giggles is not a good thing.”

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Atlanta Fed President Bostic expects job losses but says there’s a really good chance to get to 2% inflation without killing the economy

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President and Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta Raphael W. Bostic speaks at a European Financial Forum event in Dublin, Ireland February 13, 2019.

Clodagh Kilcoyne | Reuters

Raphael Bostic, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, appeared on CBS’ “Face The Nation” Sunday morning with a continued commitment to the 2% inflation target and a cautiously optimistic outlook on the path to get there.

The nation’s central bank hiked the targeted federal funds rate by 75 basis points to between 3 and 3 1/4 Wednesday. Bostic believes that the Federal Reserve can achieve its goal of 2% inflation without severely damaging the economy.

“I do think that we’re going to do all that we can at the Federal Reserve to avoid deep, deep pain.” Bostic told “Face the Nation.”

The most recent report clocked inflation at 8.3% through the past year. The Fed is aiming to temper demand in the economy so prices can stabilize, but some fear that the strict policies might initiate further economic turmoil.

Bostic recognized that there will likely be job losses as a result of the Fed’s actions. However, compared to prior Fed tightening, Bostic believes that “there is a really good chance that if we have job losses it will be smaller than what we’ve seen in other situations,” he said on “Face the Nation.”

Bostic sees “positive momentum” in the economy despite two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth, a signifier used by some to identify a recession.

“We’re still creating lots of jobs on a monthly basis. And so I actually think that there is some ability for the economy to absorb our actions,” Bostic said, noting “considerable job growth” in his bank’s hometown of Atlanta. “My expectation is that as we move along and we start to get inflation more under control.”



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Italy poised for hard-right leader as country votes in snap election

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Giorgia Meloni, leader of the right-wing party Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) holds a giant Italian national flag during a political rally on February 24, 2018 in Milan, Italy.

Emanuele Cremaschi | Getty Images

Italians head to the polls Sunday in a nationwide vote that could return the country’s first female prime minister and the first government led by the far-right since the end of World War II.

Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) party was created in 2012, but has its roots in Italy’s 20th century neo-fascist movement that emerged after the death of fascist leader Benito Mussolini in 1945.

After winning 4% of the vote in 2018’s election, it has used its position in opposition to springboard into the mainstream. The Brothers of Italy party is expected to gain the largest share of the vote for a single party on Sunday. Polls prior to a blackout on Sept. 9 showed that it’s been getting almost 25% of the vote, far ahead of its nearest right-wing ally Lega.

Forming a coalition with Lega, under Matteo Salvini, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and a more minor coalition partner, Noi Moderati, it looks likely the right-wing alliance will win power in Rome. Italy’s complicated first-past-the-post system rewards coalitions and the center-left Democratic Party has failed to build a large enough alliance despite polling at 21% as a single party.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. local time and will close at 11 p.m. An exit poll is due as the ballot closes, but early projections may not come until Monday morning. Reaching political consensus and cementing any coalition could then take weeks and a new government may only come to power in October.

Incumbent Mario Draghi, a much-loved technocrat who was forced out by political infighting in July, agreed to stay on as caretaker. The snap elections on Sunday come six months before they were due.

70 governments in 77 years: Why Italy changes governments so often

Brothers of Italy has chimed with sections of the public who are concerned about immigration (Italy is the destination for many migrant boats crossing the Mediterranean), the country’s relationship with the EU and the economy.

In terms of policy, Brothers of Italy has often been described as “neo-fascist” or “post-fascist,” its policies echoing the nationalist, nativist and anti-immigration stance of Italy’s fascist era. For her part, however, Meloni claims to have rid the party of fascist elements, saying in the summer that Italy’s right-wing had “handed fascism over to history for decades now.”

Still, its policies are socially conservative to say the least, with the party opposing gay marriage and promoting traditional “family values,” with Meloni saying in 2019 that her mission was to defend “God, homeland and family.”

A volunteer prepares pink ballot papers at a polling station in Rome’

Andreas Solaro | Afp | Getty Images

When it comes to Europe, Fratelli d’Italia has reversed its opposition to the euro, but champions reform of the EU in order to make it less bureaucratic and less influential on domestic policy. On an economic level, it has deferred to the center-right coalition’s position that the next government should cut sales taxes on certain goods to alleviate the cost-of-living crisis, and has said Italy should renegotiate its Covid-19 recovery funds with the EU.

Fratelli d’Italia has been pro-NATO and pro-Ukraine and supports sanctions against Russia, unlike Lega which is ambivalent about those measures. Meloni has been described as something of a political chameleon by some, with analysts noting changes in her political position over time.

'We have to cooperate with Europe and the European community,' Italy lawmaker



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3 rules to follow for a successful open relationship from therapist

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Open relationships among celebrities — Shailene Woodley, Angelina Jolie, and, perhaps most notably, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith — have been conversation fodder for years. The dynamic is often dismissed as a Hollywood arrangement that can only be maintained by iron-clad NDAs.

In recent years, though, non-monogamy has become increasingly mainstream. About one in four adults is interested in having an open relationship, according to 2021 YouGov poll of 23,000 Americans.

Opening up a relationship can actually strengthen it, says Avital Isaacs, a therapist at Manhattan Alternative Wellness Collective, a mental health practice that serves queer and trans people, non-monogamous people, and sex workers.

“In a monogamous relationship, there is a typified kind of foreclosure,” she says. “The relationship is defined by what you don’t do and it can feel like a real reduction of self. There is less that you are actively doing with your partner.”

Non-monogamy allows you to explore more experiences that you otherwise might not have in a monogamous relationship. It can also help remind someone that their partner is desirable. “Seeing them go on dates with other people may inspire a sense of wanting to earn this person’s love and care,” Isaacs says. “For some people, that’s a big motivator, instead of taking each other for granted.”

3 rules for a successful open relationship

An open relationship tends to work best if you navigate it thoughtfully, says Megan Hanafee Major, a therapist who works with couples, marriage, gender, and sexuality based in the greater Chicago area.

“Most successful open relationships follow general rules around boundaries, communication, and goals,” she says.

If you’re interested in exploring an open relationship, here are Major’s three tips to get you started.

1. Define which kinds or relationships are OK

Decide if any types of relationships or people are “off limits,” Major says. “Communicate if you or a partner has a primary relationship that will take priority, and think about what type of information you share with other partners.”

Maybe being open means physical intimacy but not emotional. Whatever it is, you need to communicate your boundaries.

“Take time to think about personal boundaries as well as relational ones,” she says. “Know that it is OK to adjust these if needed, but respecting others’ boundaries and expecting them to do the same for you is a must.”

2. More communication is always better

In any relationship, communication is paramount. In an open one where expectations are even less clear you need to be more conscious about what you’re negotiating with your partner, Isaacs says.

“When you’re in a monogamous relationship you’re doing the framework provided for you based on our society and culture,” she says. “We prioritize and understand romantic relationships to be exclusive. If you’re in an open relationship, our cultural structures and systems are not designed for you.”

That can put you in uncharted waters.

For example, she says, you get a “plus one” at a wedding or a holiday party, not a “plus whoever you’re in a relationship with.”

Major agrees that when you’re bucking societal norms and creating a more unique dynamic between you and your partner, clear communication becomes even more necessary. “Personally, I am of the mind that more communication is nearly always better than less,” she says.

Be specific when discussing the parameters of your relationships. “Communicating to partners about expectations, logistics, like time commitments, and desires, allows trust and vulnerability to build and hold over time. Not only will this help manage any misunderstandings that arise — they are inevitable — but will show your partners that you value them, their thoughts, and their time.”

3. Know what your goals are and communicate if they change

Make sure you, your primary partner and potential new partners are all on the same page.

Some questions you can ask yourself, Major says, include:

  • Do you hope to spend time doing specific activities?
  • Would you like your partners to know one another? 
  • Are there certain things that you want to explore sexually or romantically? 

“Goals may be different from relationship to relationship and are bound to change over time,” says Major. Being clear about them can alleviate hurt feelings and mixed messages down the road.

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