In retaliation to Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Anonymous breached the Russian Ministry of Defence’s database and posted it online for the world to see.
The members of the decentralised online community, known as Anons, can be identified by their striking masks depicting a grinning white face with a black goatee.
But what exactly is Anonymous, and what is the meaning behind the mask?
Who are Anonymous?
As the name suggests, no one knows exactly who Anonymous are, as the identity of members is kept strictly confidential.
Anonymous is an international group of activist hackers (known as ‘hacktivists’) primarily known for its various cyberattacks against several governments, institutions, and big businesses.
Although the exact origin is unknown, it is believed to have started in 2003 on the imageboard 4chan, with users of the site coming together after becoming increasingly disgruntled with modern politics.
In its early form, the concept of Anonymous was adopted by a decentralised online community aiming coordinated virtual attacks toward various loosely-agreed targets, primarily for the sake of entertainment.
The slowly group gained momentum, and in 2008, they launched a series of protests, pranks, and hacks targeting the Church of Scientology – known as Project Chanology.
Over time, Anonymous has grown, taking on larger targets such as PayPal, MasterCard, Visa, Sony, as well as government agencies of the United States, Israel, Tunisia, Uganda – and now Russia.
Dozens of people have been arrested for involvement in the group’s coordinated cyberattacks in countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, the Netherlands, Spain, India, and Turkey.
In 2012, Time called Anonymous one of the ‘100 most influential people’ in the world.
What is the story behind the Anonymous mask?
What is now popularly known as the Anonymous mask is the creation of illustrator David Lloyd. V for Vendetta, a 1980s comic series written by Alan Moore and Lloyd, is about a masked rebel named V who fights a fascist future British government.
Lloyd’s inspiration for the mask was England’s most famous rebel: Guy Fawkes, a conspirator in the 1605 Gunpowder Plot, a scheme to blow up Parliament and King James I.
In 2005, the comics were adapted into a blockbuster film featuring Natalie Portman. In the movie, Portman plays V’s protégé Evey who eventually takes up V’s mantle following his death.
In 2008, the mask was appropriated by the hacker group Anonymous as its public face for a protest against Scientology.
The striking imagery caught the imagination of other hackers, inspiring them to don their own masks.
Popularity grew, and the now-iconic mask has become a timeless symbol for rebellion.