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How The Anonymous Hacker Group Wages Cyber Warfare
The Peacock docuseries "The Battle For Justina Pelletier" delves into the custody battle over Justina Pelletier, which got the attention of Anonymous hacker Marty Gottesfeld.
While some people choose to protest through marches or sit-ins, a select group of computer hackers use their talents to wage cyberattacks as part of the collective known as Anonymous.
The origins of this group are murky, but they’ve made a name for themselves over the years by targeting high-profile institutions, including the Church of Scientology, the CIA and the Russian government, as a form of hacktivism.
Their usual form of online warfare is a distributed denial of service attack, known as DDoS, when a server is overwhelmed by an increase in traffic, according to Cloudflare. Unable to accommodate the influx of users, the server often becomes slow or crashes, resulting in a denial of service.
In addition to the attacks, members of the group will release videos in which they alter their voice and wear masks resembling Guy Fawkes — a historic figure who participated in the failed assassination of King James I, though the mask is more closely associated with the “V For Vendetta” film.
But these methods aren’t just used against powerful institutions. In 2014, the group initiated a DDoS attack against the Boston Children’s Hospital, whose doctors had been involved in removing a young girl, Justina Pelletier — the subject of the Peacock docuseries “The Battle For Justina Pelletier” — from her parent’s custody following concerns that she was being medically abused.
It was an atypical move for the organization, seeing as it’s a hospital, but there’s no centralized leadership within Anonymous. Rather, members of the group issue public calls for support in waging an attack.
In the case of Boston Children’s Hospital, a hacker released a YouTube video and a letter in which they outlined their grievances with the situation concerning Justina Pelletier. In the letter, the hacker stated, “To the Boston Children’s Hospital why do you employ people that clearly do not put patient’s first?” according to Slate.
Following the public statement, the hospital was impacted by a DDoS attack, forcing their system offline, per Slate’s report.
And though Anonymous has no formal leadership structure, a separate Anonymous Twitter profile tweeted, “To all the Anons attacking the CHILDREN’s Hospital in the name of Anonymous – IT IS A HOSPITAL: STOP IT,” according to the documentary. Shortly thereafter, the attack ceased.
The attack lasted at least a week and caused at least $300,000 in damage, according to “The Battle For Justina Pelletier.”
The Pelletier family was unaware of the group prior to the attack, with Justina’s father, Lou Pelletier, saying in the documentary, “We never knew how many people were involved, who was doing it. We just knew that what they were doing was helping to make sure Justina’s plight was going to be heard.”
In 2016, hacker Martin Gottesfeld was convicted of one count of conspiracy to damage protected computers and one count of damaging protected computers in relation to the attack, according to the Justice Department. He was sentenced to at least 10 years, the Associated Press reported.
Gottesfeld and his wife, Dana Gottesfeld, had attempted to escape capture but were taken into custody in 2014 after they issued a distress call from a small boat en route to the Bahamas from Cuba, where they were denied political asylum. They had to be rescued by a Disney cruise ship, according to the AP.
While they were caught, Marty said he has no regrets over his actions. Speaking on the phone from Terra Haute Corrections, Marty said in “The Battle For Justina Pelletier,” “I would do it all again in a heartbeat. In fact, I would do it even sooner.”
Anonymous briefly went dark in 2018, before resurfacing at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. Most recently, they’ve participated in attacks against the Russian Ministry of Defense in protest of the war in Ukraine, according to the Guardian.
To learn more about Gottesfeld’s attack on Boston Children’s Hospital, watch “The Battle For Justina Pelletier,” streaming Dec. 13 on Peacock.