Monday, December 13, 2010

WikiLeaks Cyberwar: Cyberfizzle...? Cyberintifada?

"Some historians like to talk about the "Long War" of the 20th century, a conflict spanning both world wars and the wars in Korea and Vietnam. They stress that this Long War was a single struggle over what kind of political system would rule the world - democracy, communism or fascism - and that what a war is fought over is often more important than the specifics of individual armies and nations.

The Internet, too, is embroiled in a Long War.

The latest fighters on one side are Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, and the media-dubbed "hacker army" that has risen in his defense in the past week, staging coordinated attacks on government and corporate institutions that have stood in his way. They come from a long tradition of Internet expansionists, who hold that the Web should remake the rest of the world in its own image. They believe that decentralized, transparent and radically open networks should be the organizing principle for all things in society, big and small. "

"The battle between "Anonymous" and the establishment isn't the first in the Long War between media-dubbed "hackers" and institutions, and considering the conflict's progression is key to understanding where it will lead.

In the early 1980s, Richard Stallman, then an employee at MIT's artificial-intelligence lab, was denied permission to access and edit computer code for the lab's laser printer. Frustrated, he kicked off what he calls GNU, a massively collaborative project to create a free and sharable operating system. His efforts sparked a widespread movement challenging the restriction of access to software through patents. Supporters asserted that they had a right to control the code in their own computers.

The battle reached far beyond Stallman, eventually pitting corporations and patent-holders against this early generation of free-software advocates. The bulk of most software is still private, though open-source projects have gained popularity and even dominance in some arenas. Stallman continues to advocate for free software."

Washington Post - WikiLeaks and the Internet's Long War

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"It all started with a carnival atmosphere, as tens of thousands of students and sixth formers took to the streets to protest about the state of higher education and inequality in society.

Students carried placards with witty and sometimes obscure slogans such as “Be realistic, ask the impossible” and “Under the paving stones, the beach”. But it turned violent as groups of anarchists seized buildings and confronted the police. Pretty soon, there was an atmosphere of revolution.

No, that wasn’t a report from last week’s student demonstrations in London. It was from Paris, May 1968, when students seized the city in the spirit of the Paris Commune. The 1968 students fought running battles with the police, threw cobble stones, wrecked cars. Their actions struck a chord with the trades unions, and within days 10 million French workers went out on strike. “Les evenements” nearly toppled the French government and Charles De Gaulle, the president, put the military on alert for a violent revolution then scurried off to Germany. His government was forced to concede an early general election."

"The current student intifada in Britain against tuition fees may not be quite in the same revolutionary league; there’s no sign yet of any general strike following the Battle of Westminster. But it is important nevertheless, if only because of the timing. As in 1968, 2010 has been a year of protest throughout Europe. We saw general strikes in Spain and France, riots in Greece, mass demonstrations in Ireland as EU governments sought to deal with the financial crisis by driving down living standards and cutting public services. Students have invariably been in the thick of the action. There has been an increase also in less orthodox, internet- based protest, such as the hackers of “Anonymous” who have attacked firms like Amazon and Paypal in defence of the WikiLeaks leader, Julian Assange. Protest has gone digital."

"...Protest does have an impact, though sometimes it isn’t obvious. The campaign against the Criminal Justice Bill in 1994 did not “kill the bill” but it did moderate it. The anti-war marchers who said “not in my name” in 2003 made clear to history that the war was illegitimate in the eyes of many millions of ordinary people, and destroyed Tony Blair’s credibility. The poll tax demonstrations really did succeed in getting the community charge scrapped, though it took a couple of years and the removal of its architect, Margaret Thatcher. She was forced from office a matter of months after the London poll tax riots, by Tory ministers who realised that she had become a vote loser. In Scotland, the poll tax protests fuelled demands for a Scottish parliament as the only certain means of protecting the country from future Tory legislation. The urban race riots in 1981 in areas like Toxteth, Southall and Brixton led to the Scarman Report, police reform and multicultural policies in local government

It’s also true that the student demos are not Paris, May 1968. But the truth is that 1968 didn’t directly achieve all that much either. Europe’s greatest popular uprising since the Second World War was a political failure. The student unrest and the strikes evaporated almost as quickly as they had emerged, and in the subsequent general election, the right-wing Gaullists were returned with an increased majority. But les evenements, while a failure electorally, were immensely significant culturally, and historians agree that 1968 was a watershed year in Europe and the world. The rebellion wasn’t really a revolution in the traditional sense and was led as much by hedonism as Marxism. The revolt captured the imaginations of young people all over Europe, and marked the end of the authoritarian, sexually repressed and socially conservative post-war era. Feminism, environmentalism and gay liberation all trace their origins to the “spirit of ’68”." [bold mine - James]

Herald Scotland - The new revolutionaries

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"Hacking has been around as long as the Internet, but has generally been the province of vandals, organized criminals or programmers simply flaunting their technical prowess, said Marc Cooper, a professor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

"This is the first time we're really seeing a mass movement of cyber-sabotage with political overtones," he said.

"Whatever the legality and morality, I think it has an undeniable Robin Hood type of resonance with lots of people."

As is true of WikiLeaks, the members of Anonymous come from many countries, work in secret and often set their own rules, haranguing adversaries by barraging websites, breaking into email accounts and posting targets' personal information on the Web."

"Law enforcement authorities say these attacks, which can cause severe disruption to businesses, can easily cross the line from demonstration to criminal action."

Montreal Gazzette - WikiLeaks 'hacktivists': Freedom defenders or nerd supremacists?

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"People using a tool to conduct distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks against other websites in support of WikiLeaks can easily be traced, according to computer security researchers.

Thousands of people have downloaded the "Low Orbit Ion Cannon," a tool that bombards a targeted website with garbled traffic in an attempt to knock it offline. The tool has been promoted by Anonymous, a loose-knit group of online campaigners that has attacked companies that cut off support for WikiLeaks since it began releasing secret U.S. diplomatic cables in late November.

But researchers at the University of Twente in Enschede, Holland, say it is easy for ISPs to identify those using the tool, as it takes no measures to protect the identity of its users, according to their paper.

There are several versions of the Low Orbit Ion Cannon: one is a client application that is downloaded by a user and can be remotely controlled via an IRC (Internet Relay Chat) or be manually configured. The other is a JavaScript-based Web site.

With the client application, the targeted Web site can see the real IP (Internet Protocol) address of the computer conducting the attack, the researchers wrote. The IP address can be linked to the ISP providing the service, which can then investigate which subscriber the address corresponds too. The same condition happens when someone uses the Web-based tool."

PC World - Website Attackers Could Be Easily Traced, Researchers Say

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"But in modern times, the rules were blurred. The ‘enemy’ stopped wearing uniforms. Civilians became accepted targets. The line between right and wrong grew scuffed, and it appears, is in imminent danger of disappearing altogether.

And that’s where we sit today. Currently, those on the side of WikiLeaks - and thus attacking various corporate and government websites - are mostly operating under the tag Anonymous, clubbing together to organise and undertake Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.

For the luddites, think of it this way. The governments and corporations are what they are - strong, heavily armed and well-defended. Anonymous are like the rabble of Palestinian kids we see throwing rocks at soldiers, occasionally getting accurate and giving a man in a uniform a bit of a boo-boo. DDoS attacks are, at their most effective, a nuisance. Cyber sabre rattling, and nothing more.

The point is that they are fighting, and with every weapon at their admittedly quite meagre disposal.
[bold mine - James]

It should really come as no surprise that a war can be fought in this manner. The ongoing and inexorable creep from state-to-state warfare to the more nebulous, unidentified non-government enemies - as we’ve seen in the War on Terror - was merely a foreshadowing of events to come.

We have entered a time when single, small entities carry as much agency in a battle as a nation of more than 200 million, with the single most powerful military on the planet behind it."

Australian Broadcasting Corporation - Welcome to Infowar, version 1.0

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Oh, well. No cyberwar. Maybe cyber skirmishes. The folks in anonymous that I spoke to/messaged with told a different story of being organised.

Guess not.

I've been part of enough student protests that I should have anticipated this. But they seemed to have their shit together.

Maybe next time.

What i think this does mean is a wake-up call for major corporations about their internet vulnerability.

and, as Tim Hwang says in the Washington Post:

"In his recent book "The Master Switch," Columbia law professor Tim Wu makes the case that the Internet, on its most basic level, is just like any other communications medium. As such, we shouldn't be surprised to see consolidation and government control over the Web. It's true that most other media - movies, radio and television - have gone through phases of wild growth and experimentation, eventually settling into a pattern of consolidation and control.

Why should we expect any different of the Web? Is the arc of the Internet's Long War predetermined?

One key factor is embedded in the history of the Web and the many iterations of the Long War itself: The Internet has cultivated a public vested in its freedom. Each round of conflict draws in additional supporters, from hackers to the growing numbers of open-government activists and everyday users who believe, more and more, that the radical openness of the Web should set the pattern for everything.

As the battlefield has become more vast - from laser printer code to transparency in global diplomacy - the Internet's standing army continues to grow, and is spoiling for a fight."
Washington Post - WikiLeaks and the Internet's Long War

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