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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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U.S. is behind on supply chain independence from China

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'We have to make sure we have a diversified supply chain': Biden presidential coordinator

The U.S. has some rapid catching up to do if it is to secure the reliability of its supply chain and its independence from competitors like China, a top White House advisor admitted this week.

“Look, this is a major concern for the U.S. and I think for the rest of the world. As we are going into a cleaner, greener, an entirely new energy system, we have to make sure we have a diversified supply chain,” Special Presidential Coordinator Amos Hochstein told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Monday.

“We can’t have a supply chain that is concentrated in any country, doesn’t matter which country that is,” he said. “We have to make sure from the mining and refining process to the building of the batteries and wind turbines that we have a diversified system that we can be well supplied for. That is the only way this will work from an economy perspective.”

Asked if the U.S. was behind in this endeavor, Hochstein, who also served in the Obama administration as chief energy envoy, replied: “Absolutely we’re behind.” But, he added, “It doesn’t mean that we’re out.”

Workers transport soil containing rare earth elements for export at a port in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, China October 31, 2010.

Stringer | Reuters

China controls roughly 60% of the world’s production of rare earth minerals and materials, according to a recent report by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. Those resources include lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite, manganese and other rare earth elements crucial for making things like electric vehicles, batteries, computers and household goods.

They’re also essential for renewable technology like solar panels and wind turbines, which are central in the U.S.’s attempt at an energy transition away from fossil fuels. As just one example, China refines 95% of the world’s manganese — a chemical element used in batteries and steel manufacturing — despite mining less than 10% of its global supply.

For the U.S., whose relations with China can currently be described as tense at best, this poses several security risks, were China to decide to weaponize that market dominance at any point. The Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war have also highlighted the fragility of the global supply chain.

‘We have not invested’

The White House, in a Feb. 2022 fact sheet, wrote that “The U.S. is increasingly dependent on foreign sources for many of the processed versions of these minerals. Globally, China controls most of the market for processing and refining for cobalt, lithium, rare earths and other critical minerals.”

“We have to recognize that we have not invested, and that’s what the United States is trying to do now, is not only say the same old talk of we want to have partnerships,” Hochstein said. “We’re going to come to this table together with our G7 allies, we’re going to pool our resources, we’re going to make sure that the money is there.”

This includes dedicated financial and business incentives, Hochstein said. The Biden administration’s mammoth 2022 Inflation Reduction Act aims to invest heavily in the supply of and access to critical minerals in allied countries, and offers approximately $369 billion in funding and tax credits to boost renewable energy technology and critical mineral production.

“We’re giving the incentives, through the IRA, to tell companies ‘look, if you make sure you’re mining in the U.S. or in other countries and bring it to the U.S. for refining, processing and battery manufacturing, there’s going to be the kind of financial incentives there’,” he said.

U.S. is 'absolutely behind' on supply chain independence for crucial minerals: presidential adviser

Despite his warnings about supply chain risk, Hochstein rejected the idea that the U.S. was being held hostage to China.

“I don’t want to talk about being held hostage, at the end of the day China is doing what they think is right for them,” he said. “They’re trying to build an economic energy in the clean energy space and we all need to do the same.”

“We have to learn from what we went through in the oil and gas energy space, as we transition to a new energy market that relies still on natural resources,” he added.

“They may not be oil and gas, but they’re still natural resources — they’re not abundant everywhere in the world — so we have to make sure from the U.S. perspective that we have a supply chain for the United States, and that’s what the legislation that we passed in the United States is trying to do.”



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Boeing to slash about 2,000 white-collar jobs in finance and HR, report says

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Boeing expects to slash about 2,000 white-collar jobs this year in finance and human resources through a combination of attrition and layoffs, the planemaker confirmed to Seattle Times newspaper on Monday.

Last month, the Virginia-based company announced it would hire 10,000 workers in 2023, but some support positions would be cut.

Back then Boeing acknowledged it will “lower staffing within some support functions” – a move meant to enable it to better align resources to support current products and technology development.

“Over time, some of our corporate functions have grown quite large. And with that growth tends to come bureaucracy or disparate systems that are inefficient,” the newspaper quoted Mike Friedman, a senior director of communications at Boeing as saying. “So we’re streamlining.”

Boeing did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment. 

Last year, Boeing said it plans to cut about 150 finance jobs in the United States to simplify its corporate structure and focus more resources into manufacturing and product development.

Watch CNBC's full interview with Boeing's Dave Calhoun



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Trump appeals sanctions for ‘frivolous’ suit against Hillary Clinton

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presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton attend campaign rallies in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, October 10, 2016 and Manchester, New Hampshire U.S., October 24, 2016 in a combination of file photos.

Mike Segar | Carlos Barria | Reuters

Former President Donald Trump and one of his lawyers said Monday they are appealing nearly $1 million in sanctions imposed on them for what a federal judge called their “frivolous” lawsuit against Hillary Clinton and more than two dozen other defendants.

The court filing about the appeal came days after a lawyer for Trump and his attorney Alina Habba told the judge in the case they were willing to put up a bond of $1,031,788 to cover the costs of the sanctions while the federal Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit considered the matter.

In imposing those sanctions Jan. 19, Judge John Middlebrooks said in an order, “We are confronted with a lawsuit that should never have been filed, which was completely frivolous, both factually and legally, and which was brought in bad faith for an improper purpose.”

Trump’s suit, which sought $70 million in damages, accused Clinton, former FBI officials, the Democratic National Committee and others of conspiring to create a “false narrative” that Trump and his 2016 presidential campaign against Clinton were colluding with Russia to try to win the election that year.

CNBC Politics

Read more of CNBC’s politics coverage:

Middlebrooks in September dismissed the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and barred Trump from refiling the complaint.

He later ordered Trump and Habba to pay more than $937,000 in sanctions.

Middlebrooks in his sanctions order called Trump “a mastermind of strategic abuse of the judicial process,” and a “prolific and sophisticated litigant who is repeatedly using the courts to seek revenge on political adversaries.”

A day after Middlebrooks issued that order, Trump voluntarily dropped another lawsuit he had pending before the same judge against New York Attorney General Letitia James. That suit was related to James’ pending $250 million fraud lawsuit against Trump and his company in Manhattan state court.

Jared Roberts, the lawyer for Trump and Habba, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNBC about the appeal.



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