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In the weeks after the attack, the hackers released tens of thousands of e-mail messages and made headlines around the world. Aaron Bar, the CEO of HBGary Federal, eventually resigned; 12 Congressman called for an investigation; an ethics complaint was lodged against a major DC law firm involved with some of the more dubious plans.

Looked at from a certain angle, with one’s eyes squinted just right, the whole saga could look almost noble, a classic underdog story of rogue hackers taking on corporate and government power. On the flipside, however, the attacks caused big losses to several companies, leaked highly personal information about people’s lives, and resulted in a sustained (and fairly juvenile) attack on related security firm HBGary, Inc. And the irony was not lost on those who were attacked: Anonymous demanded transparency while offering none itself.

The many contradictions of the narrative perfectly sum up Anonymous, which claims to have no leaders, no real members, and no fixed ideology. It is whatever anyone wants it to be; start an operation, drum up enough interest from others, and you are operating under the Anonymous banner. Such an approach can lead to chaos, simultaneously providing a fertile breeding ground for ideas and an opening for total anarchy. It can also cause a rift between those who want to be digital Robin Hoods and those who are merely hacking “for the lulz.”

Few recent stories can shed so much light on a hacking movement, illuminate classified government contracting, reveal corporate bad behavior, raise doubts about the limits of Internet vigilante behavior, and show just how completely privacy has been obliterated in the digital age as the conflict between Anonymous and the two HBGarys.

That’s why Ars Technica poured so much time into researching and writing the complete narrative of the attacks and their aftermath, and it’s why we’re pleased to bring you the complete series now, packaged together for easy reading.

Chapter 1: Anonymous to security firm working with FBI: “You’ve angered the hive”

By Jacqui Cheng

Internet vigilante group Anonymous turned its sights on security firm HBGary on Sunday evening in an attempt to “teach [HBGary] a lesson you’ll never forget.” The firm had been working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to unmask members of Anonymous following the group’s pro-WikiLeaks attacks on financial services companies, and was prepared to release its findings next week.

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