To celebrate Guy Fawkes Day today (Nov. 5), the Anonymous hacktivist movement, which has adopted the English rebel's mask as one of its symbols, has been hard at work.
Anonymous-affiliated groups have today claimed credit for the dump of tens of thousands of names, email addresses and corresponding passwords from PayPal and computer-security firm Symantec, and for attacks on Australian government sites. There are plans to stage a "V for Vendetta"-style non-violent march on the Houses of Parliament in London this evening.
The PayPal data dump was announced on multiple Anonymous Twitter accounts. PayPal denied any data breach and said that an investigation into reports of the attack hadn't found "any evidence that validates this claim."
The increase in Anonymous activities overall, however, is hard to deny. A hacker known as Pyknic, thought to be associated with Anonymous, purportedly defaced Lady Gaga's website and several websites belonging to NBC Universal. The defaced sites included the official "Saturday Night Live" site, preventing some users from streaming the show late on Sunday North American time.
It's definitely Anonymous' busy season. The hacktivists have appropriated the imagery, rhetoric and ethos of Guy Fawkes, an English Catholic who tried to blow up Parliament on Nov. 5, 1605.
The anniversary of the failed "Gunpowder Plot" became a holiday for English Protestants, and the stylized Guy Fawkes Day mask now associated with Anonymous was made famous by the science-fiction comic and film "V for Vendetta."
One of the main news accounts on Twitter, @AnonymousPress, reported that Anonymous had taken down and/or breached other targets today, including Turkey's national judicial network and photo-hosting service ImageShack.
There were also rumors, just as there were last year, that Anonymous would attack Facebook on Guy Fawkes Day. But @AnonymousPress denied those rumors on Facebook itself.
At the Houses of Parliament tonight, thousands of masked denizens were expected to coverge in what a Pastebin posting described as "the centerpiece of a worldwide Anonymous operation of global strength and solidarity" and a warning "to all governments worldwide that if they keep trying to censor, cut, imprison or silence the free world or the free Internet, they will not be our governments for much longer."
The offline show of force may spread to other capitals. In Canada, legislation that would stop demonstrators from wearing their masks is moving through that country's parliament.
The House of Commons in Ottawa approved a bill last week that would make it illegal to conceal one's face during an "unlawful assembly," such as a riot. Violators could face up to 10 years in prison. The bill next goes to the Canadian Senate.
"The bottom line is that the perpetrators who are criminalized by this legislation are not lawful protestors," Member of Parliament Blake Richards (Conservative-Alberta), who supports the bill, said. "I am not looking to criminalize pandas, Frosty the Snowman or seals."
Supporters of the new legislation insist that it is a reaction to the Stanley Cup riots that rocked Vancouver in 2011 after the Vancouver Canucks lost the National Hockey League championship series to the Boston Bruins.
Anonymous threatened to take Facebook offline on Nov. 5 of last year but, predictably, the behemoth social network chugged without interruption into the next day.
After last year's Facebook takedown failed to draw support, various Anonymous supporters set their sights on software company Zynga, which makes games for the Facebook platform.
The company was targeted, according to a post on anon news.org, for "the outrageous treatment of their employees and their actions against many developers."
Anonymous has threatened to release Zynga's intellectual property and confidential documents unless the company corrects behavior that "will result in massive layoff of a thousand people" and "end the US game market as we know it."