Many of you have emailed me asking how to connect with Anonymous and how to join the IRC network. Instead of writing individual emails to about 25 people, I'm going to simply post basic instructions here and hope those who are interested take time to read them. I'm going to assume you have very little security experience and just want to make a secure connection, do a little chatting, and retain your anonymity while doing so.
Before we get started I want to clarify something I've been hearing a lot about. When you join one of the Anonymous IRC channels, particularly #opnewblood, you will often see a message telling you to go to the #vhost channel and get a vhost for protection. THIS IS MISLEADING. While getting a vhost will indeed prevent your fellow chatters from knowing who you are, IT WILL NOT PROTECT YOU from anyone monitoring the IRC server directly. Anyone having administrative privileges on the IRC server can easily see your real connection information and link it to your Internet Service Provider and even what town you're in. If you plan to stick around the Anonymous channels, you need to do more than get a vhost.
LET'S TALK OPTIONS
There are two ways to protect your anonyminity from both your fellow chatters and anyone monitoring the server when you're in the Anonymous IRC channels
1) You can use a VPN (preferably in a privacy friendly country) and connect directly to the Anonops server through it,
2) You can use a special piece of software called I2P which provides good, strong, anonymity and encryption from other chatters, your ISP, and anyone monitoring the IRC server.
Since we're assuming that you have no technical or security experience and there are some questions about finding a trustable VPN provider, we're going to go the I2P route to get connected to the channels. I2P, provided by the German Privacy Foundation, is one of several programs that routes your internet traffic through several different machines before reaching its destination so, by the time you actually touch the server, who and where you are is nearly impossible to figure out.
The first thing you'll need to do is download the I2P software. It's free and can be obtained by going to http://www.i2p2.de and clicking on the 'download' link on the left hand panel. I2P is a relatively small download and shouldn't take more than a few minutes on even a slow connection. Once it's done downloading, just click on the executable file and start the installation (I'm assuming you're on Windows. Linux and Mac are similarly easy). Once I2P has installed, you will notice 3 new icons on your Windows desktop. To start I2P, simply click the "Start I2P (no window)' icon and give it a few seconds. You won't see anything but pretty quickly, I2P will be running. To verify this, click on the icon titled 'I2P Router Console' to bring up the web based information and configuration system.
You may need to give I2P a few minutes to fully configure itself the first time it runs, But once it's done (by a number of 'active' peers being greater than (0) you can use it to connect to a variety of services including Anonymous IRC.
The software connects you securely to Anonymous IRC by running a proxy server on your machine. When you connect your IRC client to that proxy, it will automatically go through the I2P network and end up where you want to be. Right now, only the I2P network is supported. If you want to connect to something like Dalnet or Undernet, you're out of luck. Sorry.
Now, we're ready to connect to Anonymous IRC! Open your chosen IRC program (links to some at the bottom of this post) and type '/server localhost:6668' (without the quotes) in the window you see. ''localhost' refers to your own computer (where the software is running) and '6668' is the port I2P is listening on for IRC connections. It might take a while, but eventually you'll be connected to the network and should see a welcome message.
Next, you can get a list of all the channels on the network by typing '/list' (again, without the quotes) and pressing enter. You'll see a variety of channels that you can join. Not all of them are Anonymous' channels. Some are just regular I2P channels that have nothing to do with the group. You can recognize Anonymous' channels by their name. They usually begin with 'op' or 'anon' (for example 'opsyria' or 'anonops'). If you're completely new to Anonymous and want to ask questions, I recommend that you spend some time in #opnewblood where experienced users hang out and are ready to help you. #anonops is where general discussion often happens and you can think of it as the 'Anonymous water cooler' so you might want to hang out there too.
Now that you're connected, spend some time exploring the network and chatting. Don't give any identifying information though and never give out your real email address as that compromises your anonymity. Once you've been there a while, you'll learn the ropes and will be chatting like a pro. Who knows you might even end up as part of an op.
Last but not least, remember the lulz. It's all pretty serious but find the fun where you can. Enjoy your experience, learn, and help out where you can. Remember, YOU are Anonymous.
IRC PROGRAMS FOR WINDOWS
mIRC - http://www.mirc.com
XChat - http://xchat.org
NetTalk - http://ntalk.de
IRC PROGRAMS FOR LINUX
BitchX - http://www.bitchx.org
XChat - http://www.xchat.org (may be already included - check!)
IRC PROGRAMS FOR MAC
Ircle - http://www.ircle.org
XChat - http://www.xchat.org (thanks to @BenMcGinnes for the info)