SAN FRANCISCO — The elusive hacker movement known as Anonymous has carried out Internet attacks on well-known organizations like Sony and PBS.
In August, the group went after its most prominent target yet: the Vatican.
Their goal — according to YouTube messages delivered by an Anonymous figure in a Guy Fawkes mask — was to disrupt the event and draw attention to child sexual abuse by priests, among other issues.
Their Facebook page called on volunteers to download free attack software and implored them to “stop child abuse” by joining the cause. It featured split-screen images of the pope seated on a gilded throne on one side and starving African children on the other. And it linked to articles about sexual abuse cases and blog posts itemizing the church’s assets.
On the first day, the denial-of-service attack resulted in 28 times the normal traffic to the church site, rising to 34 times the next day. Hackers involved in the attack, who did not identify themselves, said through a Twitter account associated with the campaign that the two-day effort succeeded in slowing the site’s performance and making the page unavailable “in several countries.”
Researchers who have followed Anonymous say that despite its lack of success in this and other campaigns, recent attacks show the movement is still evolving and, if anything, emboldened. Threatened attacks on the New York Stock Exchange and Facebook last autumn apparently fizzled. But the hackers appeared to regain momentum in January after federal authorities shut down Megaupload, a popular file-sharing site.
“Anonymous is an idea, a global protest movement, by activists on the streets and by hackers in the network,” the hackers said through the Twitter account. “Anyone can be Anonymous, because we are an idea without leaders who defend freedom and promote free knowledge.”