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Taking a Laptop to a Knife Fight

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We all have fears. My own include high places (the falling part), being buried alive (Uma Thurman’s coffin scene in Kill Bill 2 haunts me) and crazy people with sharp weapons. I don’t do gutters and the probability of my being buried alive is smaller than a lightning strike – I’m safe on both fronts. As for crazies with weapons; while I couldn’t find solid numbers, Indiana’s total 2011 murder count should be well below 400 with (according to my informal checking) almost none of these were done with knives. Again, I’ll be OK.

Compare the tranquility of my (and most probably your) life with a 2010 report in El Universal, one of Mexico’s major newspaper, that there were 958 Mexican drug-related murders in March alone. With beheadings the preferred mode of intimidation amongst drug cartels, one can assume Mexico has more than its fair share of knife wielding psychopaths.

Given their tendency to make social statements with sharp weapons, who amongst us would consider a confrontation with Mexican drug cartels, as anything but very poor judgment?

Yet, a most amazing and unlikely confrontation between Anonymous and the Zetas Cartel (reported by the U.S. Justice Department as possibly “the most technologically advanced, sophisticated, and violent” cartel of the lot) just recently came to an equally unlikely conclusion.

This confrontation found an odd start, beginning with an Anonymous-led grass roots display of solidarity, called Operation: Paperstorm. Operation: Paperstorm, a quintessential Anonymous event called for a collective warning to governments and big business that the masses were tired of their greed and public insensitivity (perhaps an early version of Occupy Wall Street?) with a series of feet-on-the ground protests and distribution of Operation: Paperstorm posters and leaflets.

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According to global think tank Stratfor, an Anonymous member was kidnapped during an October 2011 Operation: Paperstorm demonstration in the drug-war torn Mexican city of Veracruz. This kidnapping prompted Anonymous to begin confrontation with a series of challenges.

Claiming to have hacked into the Zetas Cartel data systems, Anonymous threatened to reveal the stolen names and personal information of Zetas supporters unless the kidnapped Anonymous member was released.

With a deadline of November 5 (Guy Fawkes Day, a Anonymous trademark) released a YouTube video stating, “for the time being, we won’t post photos or the names… of the taxi drivers, the journalists or the newspapers nor of the police officers, but if needed, we will publish them including their addresses, to see if by doing so the government will arrest them.”

A Spanish speaking YouTube Anonymous video also made the challenge, “you made a huge mistake by taking one of us. Release him. And if anything happens to him, you (expletive) will always remember this upcoming November 5th.”

While this challenge to the Zetas Cartel may be regarded as a classic example of the causes embraced by Anonymous, one does need to wonder about the wisdom. Consider the decapitated body of Marisol Macias Castaneda, an alleged Zetas cartel victim, supposedly murdered for her posting to cartel blogs under the name “Laredo Girl.”

Anonymous has never had to consider physical violence, perhaps violence against innocent people to serve as a warning if the actual Anonymous members cannot be found. Imagine the emotional effect of heads hung from bridges would have on Anonymous members.

Remember remember the 5th of November

As November 5th approached, many of us in the security business watched this with great interest. I think many of us viewed this as a test of Anonymous’ mettle as a true hacktivist organization, but then (and I speak from my own perspective) wonder the value of taking this to the brink. For God’s sake, these guys chop off people’s heads.

Perhaps a miracle of timing, or an attempt at a graceful retreat, a November 4th Associated Press release reported:

  • Bloggers and tweeters claiming to belong to the hacker movement “Anonymous” say they have abandoned their campaign to expose supporters of Mexico’s Zetas drug cartel.
  • The group says one of its members who had purportedly been kidnapped in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz has been freed.
  • The web site Anonymous IberoAmerica says in a statement that threats received by the group also played a role in the decision to drop the “OpCartel” campaign.

Several of the reactive comments found on the Associated Press article include:

  • Don’t pick a fight if you’re not prepared to bleed.
  • Anonymous, will get a lot of “anonymous” people killed, people who are not members too.
  • That screams less “social activist” and more “ADD-pumped nerds living in mother’s basement.” I was intrigued at first, and even supported their early efforts. Now they’re showing their true colours-less interested in society and more interested in attention.

I waffle on where I come out on this. I can honestly say I would never have considered the challenge to begin with— these cartels don’t play by any rules that I understand. Yet, in my mind, Anonymous became a true hacktivist group, if only for a few weeks. I suspect there were many emotional and heated conversations within Anonymous throughout this roller coaster ride.

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