WATCH: John Chase aka Xrsone on the Anonymous hacker collective
The hacking collective Anonymous, known for carrying out high-profile campaigns against private businesses and government entities, declared a cyberwar on ISIS following the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels.
The group's warning was blunt: "You will be treated like a virus, and we are the cure."
John Chase, a 26-year-old Boston native who used the pseudonym Xrsone, worked closely with Anonymous and two other hacking collectives, Ghostsec and CtrlSec, to compile and release lists of thousands of ISIS-associated Twitter handles in March 2015.
Circa: How did you get plugged in to Anonymous?
Chase: I started reaching out to different members of the group after the Charlie Hebdo attacks on Jan. 7, 2015. I started talking to them about what I wanted to do to compile these lists of ISIS Twitter handles and what I thought the big picture was, and a lot of people were really receptive. You'd be surprised.
Chase: You wouldn't think that someone who's never done anything with this hacktivist group could just come in and say, "Hey I want to be involved," and they would say, "Sure."
You would think that it would be more closed off, but everyone I talked to was like, "Absolutely, come in."
Circa: So, it seems like it's pretty easy to become a part of Anonymous. There's no initiation or test or anything to become a member?
Chase: No, and that's what's interesting about it, because there are some people that just jump in and say, "Hey we're part of Anonymous," but there are other people that are more involved.
If you look at Anonymous, they try not to have a hierarchy, but there are people that are doing more and are more involved. They have more status in the community. Someone like that would be a key player or like a leader.
Chase: A lot of those people are a little bit more difficult to reach, but it's like once you get in there and you start providing anything of value or of use, you start becoming a key player yourself, and they'll recognize you and you can start talking to those leaders and it will progress from there.
Circa: Where are most of these hacktivists located?
Chase: A lot of the ones that you're seeing on Twitter are located in the U.S., but it's definitely worldwide. When I released the list of 9,000 ISIS accounts in March 2015, and again with the list of 26,000 soon after, one of the things that helped it go viral was a Twitter account.
It's called Anonymous News. It has like 1.7 million followers That Twitter account is owned by a collective of people.
Chase: I wanted that account to retweet the news stories about the lists I had compiled to push them viral, but getting that account to retweet my stuff was kind of a pain in the ass because I had to talk to a guy who was in Europe, and he had to talk to another guy who was in Australia.
So Anonymous has people all over the world, and it's interesting to think that just this one Twitter account is run by multiple people all over the globe.
Circa: What is the typical Anonymous hacker like?
Chase: I would say that it's everyday normal people. The people that are the most active and the most skillful in Anonymous are usually people that have some kind of tech background, so they are probably older.
They're not 25 and under. The majority are a little older, and they are people that have been around on the internet for a very long time. Those are the people with the real skills, making the real attacks. And then there's the second level of people below them.
Chase: It could be anyone. It could be a store clerk by day who just wants to help Anonymous execute an attack. It's definitely a mixture of everybody, and I think very few times is it a kid just sitting in a basement somewhere, because the level of skill that these people have, most of the time, is way beyond that.
It's something that they have acquired over a long period of time working in that capacity. The level of things that Anonymous can do and is capable of doing, it makes you think that these people are probably professionals in the top of their field.
Circa: Why did you decide to reveal your identity?
Chase: A lot of people see Anonymous hackers as these nerdy people hacking in their mom's basement, and that's not the image that I wanted the world to see.
I didn't want people to think these are just weirdos or criminals, because that discredits a lot of the things that they do. Sometimes they do good things, sometimes they do bad things.
It's not all people hiding behind Guy Fawkes masks... It's just a lot of people who are trying to do the right thing.
Chase: A lot of the times the bad things are what we see in the media. I thought that by coming out and saying, "Yes, I'm a real person. I'm not some grungy kid in my mom's basement. I have a real actual day job "
I feel like it just brings a little more validity to [Anonymous]. It's not all people hiding behind Guy Fawkes masks. It's not all as mysterious as it seems. It's just a lot of people who are trying to do the right thing.
Circa: What was the response from within the Anonymous community after you revealed yourself publicly?
Chase: Some people positively received it and other people negatively received it. When I came out, a lot of people were really happy about that. They were like, "Wow, that was a bold step, good for you," because nobody ever does that. They are all so scared to do it.
Other people were like, "You're not a part of us" or "Don't associate him with us."
Circa: After you revealed your identity, did you get any threats from ISIS?
Chase: Yeah actually. A whole bunch of jihadist accounts were tweeting my picture. It's interesting because I read an article about one of the higher-ups in CtrlSec after I did that, and he was saying that he was real reclusive and moves location a lot and does all these countermeasures to make sure he doesn't get tracked by terrorists.
Me, on the other hand? It's funny because when I created XRSOne.com, I registered it with my real name and phone number and address.
Chase: You could have done a search on the domain and found out who I was. At the time millions of people all over the world were like, "Who the fuck is this guy?" and anyone could have done a search on the domain, which is something that is really common among tech professionals.
So, I'm really impressed no one ever did it. I registered that way kind of as a joke.
Chase: I thought that it would be funny to just leave it on there and see if anybody noticed and called me, and no one did.
I wasn't really hiding that much from the get-go, and when I came out, even though there were threats, I really don't think that anyone from ISIS was going to take the initiative to come to my house and kill me.
Circa: So it was mostly just kind of empty threats?
Chase: Yeah. That's the thing with ISIS on social media, it's just a platform for them to say things to scare the world. They barely have the resources to go and commit actual terrorist attacks. I know they do, but they're not that significant most of the time, and they're few and far between.
It's not like they're an organization with the capacity to dispatch an assassin to go kill someone that talks shit about them online.
Circa: Were you involved with Anonymous' "#OpTrump" campaign at all?
Chase: No. No, actually I like Trump. It's counter to what the rest of Anonymous thinks, but I'm personally content with Trump. To be honest, I couldn't really give a fuck who is the president because my day-to-day life won't change.
I think Trump was a great businessman and if he could pull from that, then he could be a great president. As far as anything that happened with Anonymous after what I did, I didn't participate in any of that stuff.
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Chase: That's the thing with Anonymous. Anybody can join and leave at the right moment. Because it is amorphous, you can jump on and believe in what you believe in and not support the whole picture.
Anonymous does a lot of various stuff, things that are sought by the feds, and legal stuff, and I didn't want to get tied in to all that. It's hard to say, "I'm a part of Anonymous but I just do this."
You pick and choose your battles. It's funny to see Anonymous fight terrorists because there's a lot of radicals within Anonymous.
Circa: What kind of radicals?
Chase: People that are just radical in general. They have radical opinions. There's a lot of pro-anarchy people, a lot of people that are probably a little bit too paranoid about the government. You know, conspiracy theorists.
When you have that many people that are that interested in counterculture, it's definitely a really good platform for crazies to jump on board.