So I’m sitting here watching the downing of websites 1-2-3. I have it running in the background much like you have a television or radio running, tuning in when you realize something interesting in the plot is about to happen.
Pew-pew-pew down goes PostFinance.ch. Pew-pew down goes the Swiss Government, then the Swiss Prosecutor, then Lieberman and more pew-pew it is MasterCard, Visa and now as I write this I watch as down goes PayPal.
(Oh yeah, Sarah Palin they didn’t touch, sorry, they were actually kind of appalled by that attribution.)
Sometimes the screen is slow, other times it blazes by so fast you literally can’t read the posts flying by at the speed of text.
This is what the channel of an IRC (Internet Relay Chat) looks like during a DDOS, or Denial of Service Attack. Basically, a DDOS attack happens when you flood a website with so many server requests that it overloads the server and takes it “down.” Eventually, the hope is the company will give up and take the website offline and wait out the attack or the server(s) themselves will go offline.
The thing about this type of attack if people don’t have to know how to hack anything to participate. Why? Because of LOICs (Low Orbit Ion Cannon). Initially, there were 100 active LOICs, but that number ballooned to several thousand yesterday.
Once you are attached to the LOIC “hive,” an administrator is able to control your fire power. Think of it like a massive video game. The LOIC attack allows people to attach to a “Hivemind” and away they go.
If you need a point of reference, this is similar to what happens when your computer, unbeknownst to you, if turned into an attack zombie and used for the same purpose. That also allows you plausible deniability should you be caught.
But before you get any ideas, this is against the law and you could be criminally prosecuted. So who is doing this, and why?
The mask in the picture is a reference to Guy Fawkes and is what all Anonymous “members” wear should they appear in public.
Do you remember this video? More than 4 million people saw this when it was released. This is the same group, a loosely knit set of “hackers” or “hacktivists” (for lack of better terms) who told the Guardian:
“We’re against corporations and government interfering on the internet. We believe it should be open and free for everyone. Governments shouldn’t try to censor because they don’t agree with it.”
You can read the complete Anonymous manifesto here.
The hacktivists of Anon come together much like a flock of birds to a seed pile when there is a cause they believe in defending. Then it’s game on. In this case, it is WikiLeaks and the treatment of Julian Assange.
Using a commonly known website and website location, they post information and recruitment images then gather in the IRC channel denoted on the “recruitment poster,” hook up to the “Hive,” and start firing at the designated target.
It really is that simple and that complex because there’s no real leader (just a moderator who seems to kick people out for using colors, cap locks, and underlines in their messages), yet they seem to hold together quite well. However, you can tell a few dominant figures have been to this rodeo before.
It’s a bit of a rollercoaster ride of ups and down, failures and victories. Once they succeed, they are like a roomful of lottery winners and the board flies by at an unreadable pace.
Here is one such recruitment poster. Again I have blurred out all relevant details.
The hardest part for Anonymous so far has been getting enough people in the “Hive” to be effective at crippling their targets. Because this is illegal and the authorities know about it, recruitment started slow. Yet, nothing seems to work as well as a good target and good press and they’re getting both of those.
It was astonishing yesterday. Every time I walked away for a bit and came back, their numbers climbed from 100 to over 1,600 in just an hour, then over 2,500 in the next 30 minutes just because of mentions on CNN, BBC, and others.
But you can’t blame the press. They have a duty to cover it.
We live in an instant world where the cause and the effect aren’t only instantly known, but instantly reported by mainstream media, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. Operation Payback was also getting lots of search traffic, landing it in the top 10 “hot topics” on Google this morning.
The second most fascinating thing is to watch how they choose a target, back and forth, the whys and why nots. Usually it boils down to firepower and how damaging the corporation was to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. Though in Twitter’s case, it was saved because it’s the only communication device — much like you wouldn’t take down your underground radio station in World War II Germany.
War or Protest — This is Historic No Matter How You View it
So I’ve been asking myself and others, is this protest or war? I’ve heard the same sentiment from most, and I have to agree: this is a cyberwar, the first of its kind.
Even though there have been cyber attacks before, and these are merely DDOS attacks, this is the first time it has been when a network of individuals are able to bring down major sites not only in real time, but in front of the eyes of those watching.
I can sit in the IRC and watch the hacktivists at work, taking down site after site. You can see on Twitter as they update their Twitter feeds. Get booted? They create another.
The government sends out its press releases, but they seem so old school and out of date.
Yes, this time the revolution won’t be televised. It will be streamed.
Pause. IRC channel is dinging. Something has changed. Will go see what it is.
Discussion on what target will be next. This usually goes on for a number of hours before it is determined. OK, back to writing.
See real time. When in history, could you be writing an article as it happens, peek into it, back out and go back all from the safety of a table at the local coffee shop while also reading what everyone in the world thinks about it (Twitter) and reading what analysts say about it (mainstream media)?
People are also using real-time search to find information on everything from Wikileaks to Anonymous to Operation Payback. Real time search allows people to find Twitter accounts and recruitment images almost as soon as they are posted. Not only do Google and Bing become a tool of information, but a tool of engagement.
So Why Isn’t This Just a Protest?
Because at the heart is something so much darker than any of their previous “statements.” Previously, it has been the RIAA or Scientology or something more niche and segmented that has brought Anonymous out of the shadows. This time it is something of far greater consequence. It is WikiLeaks.
“Anonymous is supporting WikiLeaks not because we agree or disagree with the data that is being sent out, but we disagree with any form of censorship on the internet. If we let WikiLeaks fall without a fight then governments will think they can just take down any sites they wish or disagree with.”
Not only has Anonymous sworn to defend WikiLeaks and Assange (a former hacker himself) against all those that have harmed him, but they have also seeded WikiLeaks across at least 780 mirror sites at last count (those are sites that contain his material, so if you take one down there are 779 to go and that was 48 hours ago).
In addition, they have all pledged to seed his “poison pill” insurance papers across as many torrent sites and downloads as possible. The “poison pill” is a set of documents Assange says he will release upon his arrest or death that contain doomsday documents, so damning that it will be unrecoverable by the United States.
Poison Pill In the Wild?
Yes, you heard that correctly. Assange seeded his “poison pill” across the Internet on what are called torrent sites. These sites are often used by people to download peer-to-peer shared files, programs, movies whatever they throw up there.
This file has been seeded across thousands of sites by Anonymous (and others). Many theorize it has been encrypted by an encryption technology called AES256, which is so strong it is virtually unbreakable.
Also, as I watched the hacktivists discuss, they have no desire to break it as they believe it would only damage Julian and his cause. So while it seems an odd place to put your insurance papers, they aren’t possessed by so many people, there is no chance of him being killed and the papers not being opened — unless the key isn’t released, but I’m thinking he has that covered.
(Note: I have seen these downloads. They exist.)
But still, you think this is war? Not just cyber punks? I do.
We still think of militias in terms of tea partiers with Grizzly Mamas, guns and Sarah Palin at the helm. But I believe we’re seeing the new “militia.”
The people of Anonymous, Julian of WikiLeaks, whether you agree or disagree, stands true to the original principals of many of the revolutionaries in the early days of America.
- Transparency of government
- Rights of the people
- Attacks on the monetary systems
Now, please don’t read into this any endorsement of the acts themselves. I’m merely drawing parallels to what is often seen and written about in past times as revolutionary when one is carrying a weapon and leading an army of men.
Except we live in new times and a gun does not hit as hard as taking down Visa, MasterCard, and PayPal and a small army can’t do as much damage as hundreds of thousands of documents of truth in a day and age where secrets (whether for good or bad) are kept behind walls of clearance and biometric pass codes.
So, War or Protest?
Though I’m sure some readers will be angered and believe I’m giving Anonymous too much credit, this isn’t their first foray into the world of cyber hacktivism. We have seen the beginning of a new type of militia, a new type of “war” so to speak.
So, yes, this segment of time, starting with WikiLeaks and Anonymous will be a part of history to be read about for many years to come.
This cyber attack isn’t something we’re reading about later in a news article about why a site was down. The people engaging in the action are communicating with us via Twitter as it happens and as they wield their swords and take another trophy down, and they are doing it to protect a man who has released hundreds of thousands of classified and secret documents from one of the most powerful nations on earth all while protecting a proverbial “nuclear document bomb.”
Yes, this time the revolution will be streamed. It will be digital.
Whether it falters in a few days or hours, or continues for weeks or even months, it is a new page in our history that will be copied and repeated — and in some ways will be far more damaging than many others that have come before.
My only hope is the current government doesn’t use antiquated arguments of security and to create a new fortress around our already decreasing freedoms. For that I would find to be the biggest tragedy of all.
UPDATE: After PayPal, Operation Payback switched their target to Amazon.com for selling the WikiLeaks cables on their website. Amazon recently refused to host these cables, so Anonymous has taken issues with the selling of these documents.