Will Facebook Be Destroyed?

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Casey Research
Published : August 13th, 2011
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 The hacktivist “group” Anonymous may be plotting to destroy Facebook on November 5. (The date should ring a bell for you history buffs and fans of the movie V for Vendetta.)

On July 16, this video was uploaded to YouTube claiming to be from Anonymous and vowing to “kill Facebook for the sake of your own privacy.” The computerized voice in the video states that Facebook has been selling information to government agencies and giving clandestine access to information security firms (some of which allegedly work for authoritarian governments like Egypt and Syria) so that they can spy on people around the world.

Because of these alleged actions, the “medium of communication you all so dearly adore will be destroyed.”

Or will it?

If the video is truly from Anonymous and the “group” really has an “Operation Facebook” seeking to destroy the social media giant, Zuckerberg et al. could have reason to worry. Remember, Anonymous has successfully hacked such organizations as News Corp., Bank of America, NATO, various U.S. military contractors, and perhaps even the Pentagon.

What’s more, Anonymous’ botnet army appears to be growing rapidly. (Note: Botnet, short for robotic network, is the general term used to denote a collection of compromised computers that are running under a command-and-control infrastructure. A botnet allows one person or group to have a large number of “zombie” computers at his/its fingertips. The Mariposa botnet busted by Spanish authorities in March 2010 had approximately 13 million computers under its control.)

Already, by December 2010, after Anonymous launched “Operation Payback,” security outfit Imperva’s Hacker Intelligence Initiative had reported that downloads of the LOIC tool Anonymous uses to launch its distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks had exceeded 40,000. At the time, Imperva reckoned that Anonymous was in the process of coordinating botnets with over 100,000 computers. Imperva’s CTO went on to speculate, “With the rate of machines engaging in this activity, we are speculating that the hacktivists are now operating using involuntary botnets – infecting unaware victims to involve them in this campaign.”

By now, there’s no telling how many computers could be under the control of Anonymous botnets. According to Gunter Ollmann of security provider Damballa, a classic DDoS attack might require 10,000 computers or more to plug the network pipes of a big website. But more sophisticated botnets could achieve the same result with only a few hundred machines. And the voluntary tools such as those spread by Anonymous had generally been getting more effective.

If the full weight of Anonymous were behind “Operation Facebook,” the hacktivists could probably cause the company serious harm. But this does not appear to be the case, at least for now.

The truth is that the situation is tough to decipher because the structure of Anonymous itself is ambiguous at best. According to a quote published by Gizmodo on Wednesday, one Anon (the popular term to refer to someone in Anonymous) described the “group” thusly:

Anonymous is a mindset, not a group. Mindsets do not have leaders. With any given operation, there are always some who agree and some who disagree. With opFaceBook specifically, there are those that agree and those that disagree. Anonymous allows each person individually to vote on each operation, a yes vote means they participate, a no vote means they do not. Anyone is allowed to create an op, and if others vote yes, it will get traction and something may be accomplished.

Nevertheless, the owners of the generally reliable AnonOps Twitter feed, whom many consider are the actual Anonymous “leadership,” have spoken out against “Operation Facebook” via tweet. And if we believe the tweets from AnonOps, it appears that the operation is being carried out by only a small group of Anons.

On Wednesday (August 10), the Website Gawker summarized the story that was laid out in a (somewhat profane) document posted to Pastebin by an Anon called Speakeasy who claimed the whole fiasco is a terrible misunderstanding. According to Speakeasy, “Operation Facebook” was launched several months ago and had between 10 and 20 members. The goal of the operation was not kill Facebook but “to bring attention to the fact that Facebook stored the data of user accounts” (even after you delete your account), and later “to develop an ethical, anonymous Facebook alternative.”

The op would entail recommending Facebook users delete their profiles on November 5 in protest and writing the source code to develop a Facebook alternative. The project was eventually scrapped for various reasons, including boredom on behalf of the members involved and the announcement of anonplus, an anonymous social network, similar to the one that was being developed at opFacebook. But apparently, nobody shut down the channel on the Anonymous chat server after the project was scrubbed and the scraps of the operation became fodder for rumors and speculation.

As Gawker reported:

See, the Operation Facebook kids had started a crowd sourced document to plan their protest; when they disbanded, everything was deleted from the document except for a single line warning Facebook that it would "never forget" November 5th—the date that had been floated for the mass account deactivation.

The chat room was left, empty except for a link to this cryptic threat. Eventually some Anons stumbled on the empty room and rumors started circulating about Operation Facebook. Speculation ranged from physical attacks on Facebook's server to some newly discovered exploit that would bring the site crashing to its knees. Someone made a video about this new, destructive Operation Facebook—Speakeasy says they don't know who—media outlets picked up the video, which now has more than a million views. Now Facebook is slated to be destroyed by year's end.

Speakeasy’s claims, along with various other evidence including the relatively poor production values of the YouTube video compared with previous Anonymous videos and the fact that Anonymous has never before given more than a couple days’ warning for an impending cyber-attack, support the contention that “Operation Facebook” is the work of a small rogue cell on the fringe of Anonymous. Even a temporary outage or slowdown of Facebook would be a significant undertaking for a small group such as this.

So Facebook is probably safe. But that doesn’t change the fact that some very talented hackers want to destroy the site. If they recruit more of the same to support their cause, then who knows…

David again. On a somewhat related note, there have been a number of stories recently about hackers overtly taking on government agencies and bragging they will increasingly be taking to the man.

It will be interesting to see who comes out on top in that particular fight.






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