The Chinga La Migra (which loosely translates as "Fuck the Border Patrol") hacks are a direct response to what Anonymous are calling the "racial profiling anti-immigrant police state that is Arizona", who recently introduced the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, a very controversial anti-illegal immigration policy which requires all aliens over the age of 14 to register with the US government and carry identification with them at all times. As you can imagine, this has led to numerous racially tense situations with US citizens from racial minority backgrouds being arrested as "illegal immigrants" as they didn't happen to have documentation proving they were US citizens with them at the time; the assumption here being "guily until proven innocent".
This particular online attack was initiated by the Anonymous splinter group LulzSec, short for Lulz Security, six hackers who decided to run a 50 day campaign of "high-quality entertainment at your expense". It was LulzSec who were famously responsible for bringing down the Sony Playstation Network, claiming to have comprimised the usernames, email addreses and passwords for over one million PSN accounts (although Sony claims it was far less). The Sony hack was claimed to be in response to Sony's legal action against George Holz for cracking the allegedly watertight Playstation 3.
LulzSec went on to compromise and steal data from a raft of corporate and government databases and post it online, along with a basic description of how easy it was for them to invade the local system, the main objective of which being to embarrass the victim company by exposing their often extremelty weak security. This "grey hat" hacking doesn't aim to maliciously exploit the data it steals, or use it for personal gain (like black hat hacking) but does often break the law in order to expose the holes in the company's system's security (unlike white hat hackers, who are often security consultants hired directly by the company).
This kind of "hacktivism" isn't really a new thing but LulzSec's activities have gained it a lot of exposure in the media spotlight both for the sheer scale of their exposures and the witty delivery of the results in their releases and Twitter feed, mainly by their spokesperson, Topiary (not really what you'd expect in a hacker name - I don't imagine that the Matrix would have had the same impact if when Keanu Reeves is fighting Hugo Weaving, the dialogue goes: (Smith) "Goodbye, Mr Anderson", (Reeves) "My....name...is...Topiary!"). After Sony was brought down, certainly in the UK, LulzSec was making its way onto mainstream news programs - Channel 4 News even ran a whole article on them - always amusing to see their logo used in a serious report.
At the end of the 50 day LulzSec lifespan, LulzSec called it quits and its six members merged back into the anonymous Anonymous horde, citing a new combined approach to a larger campaign, Operation Anti-Security, or AntiSec. AntiSec's aims follow the initial examples set out by LulzSec but with a much more politicised agenda, specifically targetting Government agencies, corporations and banks and utilising the combined power of Anonymous rather than the limited resources of just the six LulzSec members.
Operation AntiSec has been running for nearly two weeks now and largely it's living up to its word, causing myriad problems online, taking down both the Brazilian and Chinese government's websites, the US Navy website and dumping 12,000 usernames, email addresses and passwords from the NATO online bookshop. Some of their corporate targets have seemed, to me at least, more opportunistic than particularly interested in direct protest, with Disney, EMI, Universal Music and the online game Battlefield Heroes all coming under fire.
Whilst engaging with Anonymous in Operation AntiSec has clearly given LulzSec's activities a number of benefits, it also could be seen as something of a retreat, or at least a regrouping. Media claims that the arrested Essex-based hacker Ryan Cleary was a core LulzSec member seem to have been somewhat exaggerated as although the MET charged him under the Computer Misuse Act for DDOS attacks on the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the IFPI, the SOCA attack's dates line up with LulzSec's attacks but the IFPI charges date back to November 2010 - way before LulzSec even existed, as they themselves pointed out via Twitter (they also seem to claim that Cleary wasn't part of their attack on SOCA but he may picked up on what they were doing and joined in). Whether Cleary was a LulzSec member or affiliate or not, it's fairly obvious that the six members of the team must have been starting to feel the heat from their actions, with both police forces and other rival hacker groups such as TeaMp0isoN (seriously) racing to identify them. By slipping back into the blanket anonymity of Anonymous, LulzSec have perhaps wisely hidden themselves, at least for now, from any returning fire.
Operation AntiSec seems to now be gaining some further momentum and expanding its influence, with plans for a WikiLeaks-style website, based on stolen rather than leaked material, a kind of HackerLeaks if you like. This shows something of a maturing attitude from the initial "just for the Lulz" approach and may prove to be a bigger thorn in the side of the authorities than WikiLeaks itself. While WikiLeaks had.its spokesman and media friendly face in the form of Julian Assange, he was also their easiest and most obvious target. Conspiracy theorists would tell you that the rape charges eventually brought against Assange were a meticulously planned "honeytrap" to bring down WikiLeaks; whether that's true or not, Anonymous certainly has no such frontman to target.
What I think LulzSec realised, in the support for their actions from the general online population, is that in Operation AntiSec, they could galvanise the online community under the blanket banner of Anonymous to enact a new level of protest. As I stated before, there's nothing that new in what they're actually doing but it's just never been done on such a massive and mainstream scale before.
In our Western democracies, it's been proven multiple times in recent years that normal forms of protest are becoming less and less effective. As stated on Wikipedia, in early 2003, some sources claim that up to 36 million people across the globe took part in almost 3,000 protests against the Iraq war and yet our governments still went ahead with their plans. Similarly in March of this year, anywhere between a quarter and a half a million people came to London to protest against our Coalition government's proposed spending cuts and were met with almost complete indifference from those in charge. The media agencies covering the recent London protests chose to spend their time reporting on the small amount of breakaway violence that occurred, whilst the police force imposed heavy handed "kettling" tactics against numerous peaceful but determined groups.
In the form of protest that Operation AntiSec aim to undertake, you could argue that the few anonymous individuals involved, rather than the millions that marched, could have more power in influencing government through inciting voters via exposures of corruption and leaked or stolen documentation. In taking down governmental websites and databases they continue to prove that they're one step ahead, both strategically and technically than their targets, although its harder to see the same levels of support across the population for similar attacks against online games companies like Battlefield Heroes or multinational record companies battling bankruptcy like EMI. For me, Operation AntiSec needs to focus its efforts on more legitimate targets in order to widen its support; the Chinga La Migra hacks are an undeniably powerful political statement, the more of which we see, the strong AntiSec's influence will grow.
However you choose to classify the propagators of Operation AntiSec: as a nuisance or as terrorists, as self-indulgent geeks or as revolutionaries, they are capable of showing us something - that sometimes, it's not the actions of the many that make the difference, it's the actions of the few. They're capable of being more than the sum of their parts; they're a movement, they're a force for change, fighting to show us that it's not this government or that corporation that's the problem, that the problem is the system itself.
Back in 1995 there was an Angelina Jolie film called Hackers, in which a small group of (unrealistically attractive) computer nerds saved the planet. Being 15 at the time, I obviously loved it and its naively optimistic view of the world (and still do). Operation AntiSec isn't as glamourous, doesn't involve Angelina Jolie and presumably doesn't involve as much bad CGI, but will it change the world? Maybe. Even if it's just a little bit.