News / Toronto

Police request for Anonymous help with Ashley Madison called 'historic'

Hacker group Anonymous has traditionally acted on political, social justice causes, and McGill professor Gabriella Coleman said it’s significant that police would recognize that.

Supt. Bryce Evans talks about the Ashley Madison breach during a press conference in Toronto.

The Canadian Press

Supt. Bryce Evans talks about the Ashley Madison breach during a press conference in Toronto.

The Toronto Police Service’s decision to reach out to “white hat hackers” and Anonymous for help identifying who’s responsible for the Ashley Madison data breach is a “historic” and surprising move, says a leading scholar.

Gabriella Coleman, a McGill professor, studies the Anonymous community and wrote Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous. She told Metro she’s surprised to see Toronto police asking hackers – and specifically naming Anonymous—for tips and leads.

“Police have always reached out to the public and citizens for help, but they have an antagonistic relationship with Anonymous,” Coleman said.

Anonymous has traditionally acted on political, social justice causes, and Coleman said it’s significant that police would recognize that.

Acting Staff Supt. Bryce Evans made the request to the hacking community at a televised news conference Monday morning.

“To the hacking community who engages in discussion on the Dark Web and probably know information that could assist us in this investigation, we’re also appealing to you to do the right thing, to acknowledge that this is a unique situation that has caused enormous social and economic fallout,” he said. “You know the Impact Team has crossed the line. Do the right thing and reach out to us.”

When he was considering making the plea, Evans thought of Anonymous’ role into the sexual assault investigation of Halifax’s Rehtaeh Parsons, he said after the press conference.

The police strategy is a good one, Coleman said.

“The type of intelligence and reconnaissance work that the Toronto police is calling for, Anonymous has been very good at, at times,” she said.  “They’re able to find things out because people go to them. And it is true that there are these forums, black hat forums, where gossip is shared and tips circulate.

“It is realistic that the hack community, Anonymous or not, who would know something about the Ashley Madison hack.”

Coleman’s not convinced, however, Anonymous will help  because the group — like the public — appears split on the morality of the cause.

“From what I’ve seen, some people support the hack and others don’t,” she said. “Putting people’s sexual preferences and lives under the public limelight, I think a lot of people in Anonymous find pretty objectionable.”

Others, she said find it, "lulzy," and appreciate seeing prominent people, like judges and politicians exposed online. 

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