Anonymous, WikiLeaks, DDoS and the rights and wrongs of it all
Anonymous, the anonymous hacktivist group, poses a very difficult question: at what point does illegal activity for a cause in which we believe cease to be unacceptable and start to be heroic (and vice versa, of course)?
Anonymous is the group that has claimed responsibility for the ‘retaliatory’ DDoS attacks against companies such as MasterCard, Visa and PayPal for withdrawing support for WikiLeaks. But is also the group that has targeted both the Zimbabwean and Tunisian governments:
“We are targeting Mugabe and his regime in the Zanu-PF who have outlawed the free press and threaten to sue anyone publishing Wikileaks,” the group said at the time.
BBC News: 4 Jan 2011
Anonymous, the loosely-organized band of hacker activists and vigilantes, has chosen its next victim: The government of Tunisia. (They’ve taken down its official website.) Why? In part, because it tried to block access to secret-sharing website Wikileaks.
Gawker: 3 Jan 2011
By 10 Jan, elements within Anonymous had begun to provide support to Tunisians who might be under threat from a repressive government:
In an effort to support a restriction-free Internet in Tunisia, members of Anonymous have gathered to promote links to what they’re calling a care package for Tunisian protestors. In it, they have included how-to guides for a number of things including homemade gas masks. In addition, they are circulating information on TOR usage, links to Tunisian proxies, instructions for LiveCD usage, and a book titled Bypassing Internet Censorship.
The Tech Herald: 10 Jan 2011
So the question is this: are the members of Anonymous freedom fighters or cyberterrorists?
Yesterday, the UK Metropolitan Police announced that five people had been arrested:
The arrests are in relation to recent and ongoing ‘distributed denial of service’ attacks (DDoS) by an online group calling themselves ‘Anonymous’.
They are part of an ongoing MPS investigation in to Anonymous which began last year following criminal allegations of DDoS attacks by the group against several companies.
This investigation is being carried out in conjunction with international law enforcement agencies in Europe and the US.
But are these people heroes for defending the freedom of the press in repressive states like Zimbabwe and Tunisia, or are they cyber-terrorists for attacking companies like MasterCard and Visa?
Claire Sellick, Event Director for Infosecurity Europe, has no doubts. “Whilst the Anonymous group has received a lot of positive attention, most recently in the toppling of the government in Tunisia, the reality of a DDoS attack on a commercial organisation is that it paralyses that firm’s Web site and, in many cases, costs them money – both directly and indirectly,” she said.
“And whilst those staging the DDoS attacks may feel they are carrying out their acts of cybervandalism with good intentions, the reality is that a team of IT professionals has to sort out the mess behind the scenes,” she added.
I am not at all so certain. I am not willing to say that I will do whatever ‘the Law’ tells me to do just because it tells me to do it. Recent European history demonstrates that there is no objectivity to this approach. The same people who were doing what they had to do by virtue of their national law, were later executed as war criminals. The judgment over what is ‘right’ is a personal one; and I insist on the right – even duty – to ignore the law if it is morally repugnant to me.
So, was Anonymous right in attacking MasterCard, Visa and PayPal? Frankly, I don’t know. But MasterCard, Visa and PayPal were most definitely wrong to withdraw their services from WikiLeaks.