We Are Legion: The History of Anonymous

 

We Are Legion: The Story of the Hactivists

Brian Knappenberger (2012)

Film Review

We are Legion traces the early history of Anonymous, the vast leaderless international hactivist community, back to geeky pranksters from MIT’s (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Model Railroad Club. After branching out to form the Cult of the Dead Cow, they would morph into 4Chan, a website where anonymous – mainly adolescent users – go out of their way to post the most repulsive and/or obscene images and text they could think of.

The fact that most 4Chan posts bear the screen name “Anonymous” would inspire a group of 4Channers to formally take that name in 2006-2007. Their first politically motivated prank was directed attack against Neo-Nazi talk show host Hal Turner. In addition to shutting down his website through a DoS* attack, they charged massive amounts of pizza and industrial supplies to be sent to his address. On learning he was an FBI informant (by hacking into his emails), the widely disseminated this information to his right wing supporters.

By January 2008 when they took on the Church of Scientology (after the Scientology lawyers threatened them for disseminated an unflattering video of Tom Cruise promoting Scientology), they had transitioned from pranksters into a virtual online army.

In addition to repeatedly DoS-ing the Scientology website and tying up their hotline, they staged their first street protest in February 2008 – with more than 10,000 Anonymous members picketing Scientology offices in every major city. It was these protests that first popularized the Guy Fawkes mask originating from the V for Vendetta graphic novel and film.

In 2010 they launched Operation Payback to disable Mastercard, Visa and PayPal websites, after Wikileaks published Bradley Manning’s damning emails and videos about US atrocities in Iraq and the four companies suspended Wikileaks online payment services.

In 2011 Anonymous members provided third party website, dial-up and encryption services and text-based Twitter feeds for activists in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab Spring countries.

It was around this time the FBI began investigating Anonymous – resulting in the arrest of the Anonymous 16 for taking down the PayPal website. Several of the arrestees are featured in the documentary as they prepare to go to trial. Owing the amorphous and leaderless nature of the network, the arrest of dozens of Anonymous activists  seems to have done little to curtail their activists.


*A denial-of-service attack (DoS attack) is a cyber attack where perpetrators seek to make a website  unavailable by temporarily or indefinitely disrupting services. It’s typically accomplished by flooding the targeted website with superfluous requests in an attempt to overload its systems.

The Inside Story on Bill Gates and Microsoft

barbarians

Barbarians Led by Bill Gates: Microsoft from the Inside

By Jennifer Edstrom and Marlin Eller

Henry Holt (1998)

Book Review

Can be downloaded from from Open Library

Barbarians Led by Bill Gates, co-authored by former Microsoft programmer Marlin Eller, is mainly about Gates’ mercurial and inconsistent management style. While highly unflattering to Gates, Barbarians simultaneously refutes Justice Depart claims that Microsoft deliberately tried to squash competitors by stealing their innovations. The authors make out it was all just a coincidence – that Gates was too disorganized to carry out such a conspiracy. I don’t buy it.

Eller was one of the original programmers at Microsoft in 1982 when the company had only two hundred employers. They had more than 20,000 when he left. The programmer was principally involved in the development of Windows, the graphic interface Microsoft copied from VisiOn and the Apple Macintosh. The launch of Windows ultimately enabled Microsoft to monopolize the software market (competitors’ software wouldn’t run on Windows).

As Ellers describes it, the birth of Windows was a long painful saga, plagued by Gates’ mismanagement and numerous blind alleys costing the company hundreds of million. Microsoft had no systematic quality control over Windows. They seem to have mainly relied on customers to inform them of bugs and security flaws post release.

Eller repeatedly depicts Gates ordering his programmers to reverse engineer software created by other companies. Thus I find it hard to believe it was pure coincidence that Microsoft put Netscape out of business by creating Internet Explorer (which they copied from Netscape) – especially when Internet Explorer team left a giant “E” on Netscape’s front lawn the night before they launched Internet Explorer 4.0. Attached was a card that read

“Good people should feel so BAD! Best wishes – the Internet Explorer team.”

The book also details Microsoft’s longstanding legal problems, including numbers copyright infringement lawsuits and a longstanding battle with the Department of Justice over unfair competition and violation of anti-monopoly laws.***

The reader comes away with the sense that Microsoft’s only unique innovation was MS-DOS* and the BASIC programming language Gates created enabling computers to talk to one another. I’m inclined to agree with Justice Department claims that he used his wealth and monopoly power to pressure manufacturers to load Windows onto new computers. This, in turn, squeezed out competitors who designed software for other operating systems.


*Shortly before their 1999 acquisition by AOL in 1999, Netscape created the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation. The foundation, in turn, rewrote the source code for Netscape Navigator. The latter would be used to power Mozilla’s open source Firefox browser. Gates stepped down as Microsoft CEO in 2000 and as chairman of the board in 2014.

**DOS (short for disk operating system) is an acronym for several computer operating systems that are operated by using the command line. MS-DOS dominated the IBM PC compatible market between 1981 and 1995, or until about 2000 including the partially MS-DOS-based Microsoft Windows.

***Microsoft’s battle with the Department of Justice is ongoing.