The myth of "Anonymous" is that they are without a leadership or an organizational structure, but for most of their huge, well-publicized cyber-crimes, they did indeed have a leadership and a structure. Such things naturally evolve in any undertaking, and there were six top hackers who selected targets and planned operations. All but one of these top hackers is now in the penal system, which destroys another "Anonymous" myth, that they are unstoppable and untraceable.
The top echelon of "Anonymous" met in online IRC channels, often hosted on a server owned by one of the six. The minions supporting Anonymous were thousands of wannabe hackers of various skills, unknown nerds in chat rooms and IRC channels who were made to feel that they were part of the big cyber insurgency, by supporting operations against targeted websites, personalities, organizations and companies. The cyber-peasantry were advised to use downloadable programs like LOIC, or "Low Orbit Ion Cannon," an open-source, free program that is allegedly designed for stress-testing websites. LOIC is used to send large numbers of packets of information to websites, overloading their ability to receive such information and slowing or stopping online access to the website, effectively shutting out users who want to log on. This kind of attack is called a "Denial of Service" (DOS) attack, and can deny commercial websites customer traffic, resulting in lost revenues, sometimes in the millions of dollars. (The "Anonymous" DOS attacks relied mainly on the use of botnets -- the LOIC users contributed only marginally to the efforts.)
I attempted to download LOIC to see what it was all about, but my virus checker warned me away, stating that the program contains a trojan. Don't download it.
The Anonymous wannabes who used the program to join in Anonymous DOS attacks were told that their use of the program couldn't be traced back to them. That information was wrong, and around 15 of these followers were subsequently traced and arrested. One of them, who participated in the attack on Scientology web servers, was ordered to pay $15,000 in damages and serve a year in jail. So much for being "anonymous."
DOS attacks are only one form of cyber-crime. The top six hackers received information from other hackers advising them of vulnerabilities in the websites of companies and government. Using a method called "SQL Insertion," hackers could take over entire websites with administrator capabilities, downloading databases containing credit card numbers, user passwords, and private emails containing sensitive and private information. The hackers would then either sell the information, or simply post it for public view, using the website pastebin, or a website for bit torrent downloads like Pirate Bay.
Finally, after stealing this valuable information, the targeted websites were defaced, with a message page substituted for the website's main page, containing images and slogans from "Anonymous." The ultimate final step was to delete all other contents of the website, destroying it completely. These various tactics were used against major websites like Visa, MasterCard, Paypal, Sony and even an entity of the FBI.
There is no higher purpose for this destruction, no grand design, no noble ideal, no core ideology or philosophy. These cyber-thugs seek the destruction of both individuals and organizations simply for thrills, for the feeling of power it gives, and for recognition from their sick peer group. They are like graffiti taggers, defacing property for recognition and respect from fellow criminals, or in the worst case, like gang members who murder random individuals to prove their worth to the group. "Anonymous" didn't murder anyone, but they delight in the ruthless destruction of individual lives and reputations.
"Anonymous" members like to brag about their "hive mind," in which thousands of similarly deluded individuals are committed to a massive act of destruction. The description is apt. An anonymous bunch of thugs take on the well-known psychology of the mob, the group-think, the veil of anonymity that allows the worst aspects of human nature to emerge without fear of retribution: cruelty, viciousness, a complete lack of empathy for other human beings. Whatever "Anonymous" members think of themselves, "heroes" they are not.