Anonymous struggles with rift, PSN blame

The fractured nature of the hactivism group reared its head this past weekend, as one operator seized control of the group's IRC network and a clue hinted at the possibility that another faction breached the Sony Playstation Network.

The fractured nature of Anonymous, usually a source of strength for the group, caused havoc this past weekend, after one operator seized control of the group's IRC network.

An Anonymous IRC chat moderator, Ryan, who apparently owns some of the infrastructure used for AnonOps communications, cut off other operators, according to forum postings and press reports. The moderator allegedly redirected domain names, attacked other servers that he did not administer and published the Internet addresses of people connected to the IRC servers.

"We regret to inform you today that our network has been compromised by a former IRC-operator and fellow helper named 'Ryan,'" stated a release attributed to the former operators. "He decided that he didn't like the leaderless command structure that AnonOps network admins use."

The ultimate impact of the rift within Anonymous is difficult to quantify, says Mikko Hypponen, director of research for security firm F-Secure.

"It's hard to tell whether there's going to be any long-term impact yet," he says. "Anonymous is very versatile as a group. Then again, it could split into separate operations."

Other security experts viewed the problems as possibly presaging an internal split in the group.

"No one really knows enough about how these new groups operate, their structure or their ability to withstand such stresses," says Steve Santorelli, director of global outreach for Team Cymru, a not-for-profit Internet security research company. "Are they united strongly enough by a common cause to survive or will they fragment?"

The rift came a week after Anonymous found itself linked to the disruption at Sony Entertainment's Playstation Network. The AnonOps group denied the allegations in a message to PSN users posted Monday on Anonops.blogspot.com, but left open the possibility that a faction within the loose-knit group undertook the operation.

"While it could be the case that other Anons have acted by themselves, AnonOps was not related to this incident and does not take responsibility for whatever has happened," the group said in the statement, which was posted as a YouTube video and appeared to be synthesized text-to-speech. The group posited that Sony was using them as a scapegoat, since the group has targeted the company in the past. The group argued that even the claims of their involvement, and the resulting anger of PSN users, worked to its advantage.

In the end, the group's problems result from a strong facet of their operation: Its distributed nature, says Team Cymru's Santorelli, so it will be hard to fix the problem.

"Their distributed 'command' structure, like the originally-conceived Internet, makes them hard to identify and stop," he says. "It also makes it hard for them to control (the group), their messaging and their overall direction."

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