|Born||1986/1987 (age 33–35)|
|Occupation||Hacker, computer security researcher, and software engineer|
|Known for||Founding member of Anonymous|
Aubrey Cottle (born 1986 or 1987), also known as Kirtaner, is a Canadian hacker, computer security researcher, software engineer and a founder of the hacktivist group Anonymous. Cottle was involved with Anonymous in the mid- to late-2000s, but retired later. In 2020, he returned to activity with the group, saying he was motivated by a desire to stop the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory. Cottle identified himself as a founding member of Anonymous in August 2020.
Cottle was an active user of 4chan and Something Awful in the mid-2000s, and he and a group of other heavy users of the sites began collectively referring to themselves as "Anonymous", due to the way 4chan displays user identifiers. Anonymous began trolling and conducting "raids" on other websites, where they would join online games or chat rooms en masse and disrupt the space. 4chan ultimately curtailed the organization of raids on their site, and so the group migrated to 420chan, a similar imageboard website created by Cottle, which also focused on the topics of drugs and professional wrestling. Some members of Anonymous began building tools and engaging in black-hat hacking, targeting groups and individuals including Hal Turner and the Church of Scientology.
According to Cottle, when he observed a group of scientologists photographing him at a 2008 Project Chanology rally, he began fearing for his family's safety. He said he tried to "shut down" Anonymous, but when that was unsuccessful, he tried to get bad press for the group so they would lose public support. He said that this had been the motivation behind the group's 2008 attack on the Epilepsy Foundation's website, where posters flooded the forum with flashing animations to trigger seizures in those with photosensitive or pattern-sensitive epilepsy. Cottle later expressed remorse for this attack.
Cottle said in a 2021 interview that he retired for "a number of years", and had not been continuously actively involved with Anonymous since its creation. In the interim period, Cottle turned to software engineering contract work.
Beginning with a series of arrests in 2009–2011, Anonymous' notoriety began to fade, and by 2018 the group had largely left the public spotlight. However, in 2020, Anonymous re-emerged with a series of actions supporting the George Floyd protests, namely the June 2020 BlueLeaks release of a large amount of U.S. law enforcement data. Reuters named Cottle as one of the people responsible for reviving the group's presence on Twitter, where they supported Black Lives Matter.
In August 2020, Cottle identified himself as a founder of Anonymous an article by Dale Beran in The Atlantic. Cottle said in a November 2020 Reddit "ask me anything" post that "right now my only end-goal is bringing the QAnon game to a conclusion". The previous month, he had been one of the anti-QAnon researchers who exposed connections between QAnon figure Jim Watkins and domain names suggesting connections to child pornography. In November 2020, Cottle was responsible for exploiting security flaws in Parler, a social networking service popular with the right wing, to spoof posts to appear as though they were from a verified account belonging to Ron Watkins. In the posts, Watkins appeared to expose his father, Jim Watkins, as "Q", the anonymous poster at the center of the QAnon conspiracy theory. Around the same time, Cottle exposed a large amount of Parler user data by exploiting a flaw in a third-party vendor, which granted him access to Parler's email newsletter database. In January 2021, Cottle exposed email logs from a company called Is It Wet Yet, which belongs to Jim Watkins. The company serves as the parent company for 8chan, an imageboard which has been described as the "home" of QAnon. The leaked logs allowed researchers to analyze Watkins's connections with various figures involved with the conspiracy theory. In August 2021, Cottle and open source intelligence analyst Libby Shaw were among the researchers who exposed the developer behind QAlerts, an app used by QAnon adherents to read posts from the anonymous "Q".
White hat hacking
In 2020, Cottle joined the white hat hacking group Sakura Samurai. Through his work with the group, Cottle was involved in the January 2021 disclosure of a United Nations breach which exposed more than 100,000 private employee records. In August 2021, Cottle and others at Sakura Samurai helped to validate a vulnerability with Ford's website, which exposed company records and enabled malicious account takeovers. Cottle stepped away from Sakura Samurai later that month, saying he wished to avoid "entanglements" pertaining to his other activities.
- Beran, Dale (August 11, 2020). "The Return of Anonymous". The Atlantic. Retrieved September 26, 2021.
- Harwell, Drew; Allam, Hannah; Merrill, Jeremy B.; Timberg, Craig (September 25, 2021). "Fallout begins for far-right trolls who trusted Epik to keep their identities secret". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on September 25, 2021. Retrieved September 25, 2021.
- Langlois, Shawn (November 2, 2020). "Founder of hacker group Anonymous reveals his ultimate 'end-game'". MarketWatch. Retrieved September 26, 2021.
- Cottle, Aubrey (September 21, 2021). ""I Left Anonymous. Now I'm Back"" (Interview). Vice – via YouTube.
- Poulsen, Kevin (March 28, 2008). "Hackers Assault Epilepsy Patients via Computer". Wired. Retrieved September 26, 2021.
- Gilbert, David (November 2, 2016). "Is Anonymous over?". Vice. Vice Media. Retrieved September 26, 2021.
- Griffin, Andrew (August 7, 2018). "Anonymous promises to uncover the truth behind 'QAnon' conspiracy theory". The Independent. Retrieved September 26, 2021.
- Griffin, Andrew (June 1, 2020). "'Anonymous' is back and is supporting the Black Lives Matter protests". The Independent.
- Molloy, David; Tidy, Joe (June 1, 2020). "The return of the Anonymous hacker collective". BBC News.
- Menn, Joseph (March 25, 2021). "New wave of 'hacktivism' adds twist to cybersecurity woes". Reuters. Retrieved September 26, 2021.
- Vicens, AJ; Breland, Ali (October 29, 2020). "QAnon Is Supposed to Be All About Protecting Kids. Its Primary Enabler Appears to Have Hosted Child Porn Domains". Mother Jones. Retrieved October 31, 2020.
- Harwell, Drew; Lerman, Rachel (November 23, 2020). "Conservatives grumbling about censorship say they're flocking to Parler. They told us so on Twitter". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on September 26, 2021. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
- Rothschild, Mike (December 11, 2020). "Why 8kun's former admin is at war with right-wing star Dan Bongino". The Daily Dot. Archived from the original on December 11, 2020. Retrieved September 26, 2021.
- Bevensee, Emmi; Aliapoulios, Max (January 7, 2021). "Exposed Email Logs Show 8kun Owner in Contact With QAnon Influencers and Enthusiasts". bellingcat. Retrieved September 26, 2021.
- Rothschild, Mike (December 11, 2020). "Why 8kun's former admin is at war with right-wing star Dan Bongino". The Daily Dot. Archived from the original on December 11, 2020. Retrieved December 12, 2020.
- Goforth, Claire (September 16, 2021). "How an Oath Keeper brought QAnon to the masses". The Daily Dot. Retrieved September 26, 2021.
- Sharma, Ax (January 11, 2021). "United Nations data breach exposed over 100k UNEP staff records". BleepingComputer. Retrieved September 26, 2021.
- Howard, Phoebe Wall (August 17, 2021). "Friendly hackers save Ford from potential leak of employee, customer data". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved September 26, 2021.
- Aubrey Cottle [@ThatNotoriousK] (August 22, 2021). "I'm going to take a moment to let everyone know, I am as of today, taking a multi-month sabbatical from Sakura Samurai. I'm not gone forever... I'd started work with the gang, before other, more urgent matters that brought me out here had been resolved to my liking" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
- Aubrey Cottle [@ThatNotoriousK] (August 23, 2021). "I'm stepping away so there will be no entanglements or potential issues as it pertains to my other... work. Duty calls. I have business I need to finish. I'll be home sooner or later. ;)" (Tweet) – via Twitter.