For the last ten days, a vigilante hacker only known as “Amped Attacks” has been attacking and briefly taking down racist websites like Porch Monkeys, Ku Klux Klan-affiliated portals, and skinhead sites.
“KKK and all RACIST I have a question,” he tweeted on Saturday. “How does it feel knowing one man is taking you all down one by one?”
The Amped Attacks vigilante, who claimed to be a white 27-year-old Navy veteran, said he has taken down more than 40 racist websites in ten days. His motivation is to expose racists, such as members of the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) and neo-nazis, and let them know “someone is watching them,” he said.
“My main mission is drawing attention to all racism, because this is no longer the 1800s, early 1900s,” he told me in a Skype call. “We’re living in an era where everybody should be accepted.”
Amped Attacks’ activities seem to be the latest example of online vigilantism, loosely inspired by the hacktivist collective Anonymous. The group gained widespread notoriety a few years ago by taking down websites by flooding them with bogus traffic. These attacks are technically known as a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, and have become very easy to pull off thanks to readily available off-the-shelf software that helps automate them.
“My main mission is drawing attention to all racism, because this is no longer the 1800s.“
“DDoS is incredibly simplistic, at a purely technological level,” Molly Sauter, a doctoral student at McGill University who has written a book about how DDoS attacks are a form of online civil disobedience, told Motherboard last year.
But Amped Attacks says DDoS’ing websites is just the beginning. On Halloween, he said he will release the full names and locations of the members of the websites and forums that he’s hacked. In other words, he wants to dox them. (He said that he won’t publish their full home addresses to prevent a real-life “vigilante” from showing up at their doorstep.)
His final goal is for the authorities to investigate his targets, who he believes are committing “hate crimes,” he said.
“I guess I’m the one gathering proof for them to start their own investigation,” he said.
Gabriella Coleman, a sociologist who has studied and written a book about Anonymous, told me that after the high profile activities of that hacktivist group, as well as others’, like PhineasFisher, who exposed the secrets of the surveillance tech companies FinFisher and Hacking Team, these vigilantes “are going to proliferate.”
But Amped Attacks has already gotten the negative attention of another notorious online vigilante, the patriotic hacker only known as The Jester. The hacker criticized Amped Attacks for being a copycat, targeting ISIS websites, and using the military expression “Tango Down” when announcing a successful takedown, an expression that the Jester usually uses too. The Jester also said Amped Attacks briefly took down his site earlier this week, something that “shows what he's really about.”
“His motivation is press attention, like all of these kids,” The Jester told me in a direct message on Twitter. “They don't really believe in their stated 'causes.'” (The Jester also added that Amped Attacks' actions are not as sophisticated as his.)
Amped Attacks, however, said that he’s attacking racist websites because even though he knows he is not going to fix racism alone, “I just want to know for myself that I did what I could.”
This article has been updated to add the Jester's comment on the sophistication of Amped Attack's actions.