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December 24 at the global intelligence and security think-tank Stratfor must have felt a bit like Christmas in Whoville. Members of the decentralized, hacking community, Anonymous, stole 200 GB of data from the firm, including thousands of emails, credit card numbers, passwords, and home addresses. They claim to have transferred $500,000 worth of funds from private bank accounts to various charities.

The hackers who stole Christmas from Stratfor clearly have brains ‘two sizes too small.’ In spite of their supposedly Robin Hood-esque intentions, they crossed a red line by directly tampering with the financial assets of private individuals. In executing Sunday’s haphazard hack on Stratfor, these individuals detrimentally blurred the line between hacktivist and robber.

In the past, I have been an adamant proponent of groups like Anonymous, as they have been successful at pioneering new avenues for activism. Typically, Anonymous has refrained from engaging in theft during its politically-motivated endeavors, choosing instead to resort to information distribution and what are essentially online sit-ins.

The group has had its fair share of successes, from aiding Iranian protestors in the wake of Iran’s 2009 elections to supporting Wikileaks’ right to publish freely, to hacking Syrian government websites run by the Assad regime this past September.

Therefore, I find it disappointing that the hackers have, all of a sudden, decided to sloppily burglarize a relatively obscure firm without thinking through the consequences of such a move. The bulk of donations illegally made to charities like Save the Children and the Red Cross may be nullified. The charities will likely be subject to chargebacks by credit card companies and may even face penalties.

Further, Anonymous is more a brand hackers use when participating in online activism than a concrete club, group, or institution. A brand’s existence depends on its integrity. The hackers behind the Stratfor robbery have sullied the Anonymous brand’s integrity to the detriment of hackers who would like to engage in more constructive activism in the future. In fact, fractures within the collective have already come to light.

The Stratfor robbery may have been Anonymous’s messiest instance of political activism yet. Hopefully, members Anonymous will recognize their most recent error by the time of their next hack.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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