Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hacking for a Purpose?: How "Cyber-war" Attacks may be Counterproductive to the Hacktivist Cause

Julian Assange "Merry Christmas Big Brother!"

The Concept of a "Cyber war" or revolution or protest-what have you-is a relatively new one.  The concept of "shooting yourself in the foot" is not.  I belive that the whole Wikileaks debacle is an excellent example of this.  Let me explain...

Wikileaks, as we all should know by now, is a whistleblower website dedicated to airing the dirty laundry of governments, ours in particular.  The problem, and the ensuing chaos that resulted, lies in the kind of material that Wikileaks has "leaked" or claimed will leak into the public domain; very very damaging things that could potential harm US diplomatic relations with other countires to the point of no return.  As Kristine Schachinger pointed out in her blog The Revolution will be Streamed Operation Payback: Protest or War?, the "posion pill [of information would be] so damning that it will be unrecoverable by the United States."  No big deal right?  Information is information and everyone in cyberspace should be made aware of the "naughty" political things that the US has been involved in.  Afterall, cyberspace is a land of no (or little restrictions) and many people agree that it should continue to be a censor-free arena.  Governments, however, tend to think otherwise, especially when they are being blackmailed by hackers with too much time on their hands.  I think, and most governments will agree, that some information, due to a matter of national security, should not be made available to the public simply because it can be released, which is essentially what Wikileaks was doing.  2600-The Hacker Quarterly magazine cautions against this practice as it is a way of "enflaming their (the public's) fears and assumptions [about government censorship]" which only escaltes an already volatile situation and is ultimately counterproductive to the hacktivist cause.  The website notes that:

"Hackers abhor censorship. Censorship is often seen as a
human rights violation, especially when it is combined with a
repressive, governing regime. In addition, hackers mistrust
restrictive legislation that encroaches on free access to
information and cherished electronic privacy."

 However, in a manner that contradicts the above "abhoration of censorship" that hackers hold dear, the "cyberwar" antics of so-called hactivist groups such as ANONYMOUS who believe they are doing "the right thing" and protecting free speech online by shutting down Credit Card websites, might just be giving more ammunition to those who seek to impose restrictions and monitor cyberspace.  Seymour Hersh in his article, The Online Threat: Should We Be Worried About a Cyber War?, notes that the military and the Department of Homeland Security are two agencies that would love to be given expanded control and censorship powers for the internet as a way of monitoring for any foreign or domestic threats to the US (or spying on the average Joe, whichever).  Hersh also notes that, like many hacktivists groups such as ANONYMOUS, the public fears that an"over-reliance on the military will have adverse consequences for privacy and civil liberties."  But by turning themselves into a threat to national security on the guise of protecting the freedom of speech online, Julian Assange and ANONYMOUS "shoot themselves in the foot" by providing more evidence into why there should be more government regulation of the internet instead of less.  Cyber war tactics such as DDOS's only increase the likelihood that more restrictions will be put into place in the future, giving Big Brother more control over cyberspace, a consequence that I'm sure Assange and ANONYMOUS would like to avoid.  Let's face it, if a country can't use Paypal to buy overpriced electronics from, people get upset. 

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