Home > Culture, Digital Life, Politics > A State of Cyber War Exists

A State of Cyber War Exists

WikiLeaks supporters in the hacking community are fighting back. They’re now trying to cripple the websites of companies that have chosen not to assist in what some are calling an internet grassroots rebellion and others call anarchy. Whatever you call it, the World Wide Web has now become a battleground.

The phrase, “one man’s freedom-fighter is another man’s terrorist,” has never been more apt. Using the technology of the modern age of communications, Julian Assange has revolutionized the impact of the internet, using its reach and its many hiding places to wage guerilla combat against the governments of the world. The attempts to stop the WikiLeaks movement have been almost laughable as governments and others- the establishment, if you will- try to figure out how to stop these folks from doing deadly damage.

Particularly alarming to U.S. authorities this week was the leak of a State Department cable that listed sites around the world whose loss could “critically impact” the communications, economy and security of the United States. We are now beyond guessing motives and looking for journalistic logic to explain the content of these leaks. With this particular release, it’s tempting to conclude that we are in a state of cyber-war and the rebellion just might actually mean to cause us real harm.

The list WikiLeaks published includes our bridges, mines and dams; critical underwater communication cables and oil pipelines; specific factories that make vaccines and weapons parts. The State Department calls it an Al Qaeda targeting list.

And so the establishment is trying to fight back. Somebody- we don’t who- has waged sophisticated denial-of-service attacks on WikiLeaks web sites. Governments have succeeded in getting many companies whose servers were being used by WikiLeaks, to kick them off their platforms. Credit card companies and PayPal are now refusing to process donations to the rebellion. Assange himself sits in a British prison as Swedish authorities seek his extradition on what may or may not be legitimate charges of rape against two women, allegedly committed last August.

And now the rebellion is responding. From this morning’s Washington Post:

LONDON — WikiLeaks supporters struck back Wednesday at perceived enemies of founder Julian Assange, attacking the websites of Swedish prosecutors, the Swedish lawyer whose clients have accused Assange of sexual crimes and the Swiss authority that froze Assange’s bank account.

MasterCard, which pulled the plug on its relationship with WikiLeaks on Tuesday, also seemed to be having severe technological problems.

The online vengeance campaign appeared to be taking the form of denial of service attacks in which computers across the Internet are harnessed – sometimes surreptitiously – to jam target sites with mountains of requests for data, knocking them out of commission.

The online attacks are part of a wave of online support for WikiLeaks that is sweeping the Internet. Twitter was choked with messages of solidarity Wednesday, while the site’s Facebook page hit 1 million fans.

The establishment’s attempts to silence WikiLeaks have, so far, been ineffective. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of mirror web sites that have sprouted across the globe that are keeping the site up. The list of these web sites is easy to find and WikiLeaks is not hard to get to on your office or home computer.

Where all this ends is anyone’s guess. This really does seem to be right out of some edgy science-fiction book. A novelist, I think, could surmise how this story will unfold as well as any security expert or CIA analysis team.

Ultimately, one would think human nature will run its course. Heady with excitement with their cause and their impact, and now counter-attacking against the establishment with cyber warfare- how far will the rebellion go? Will they start taking down web sites of bloggers who disagree with Assange? Why not? They have no qualms attacking the web sites of companies who have every right to conduct business with whomever they want.

One thing becoming clearer in my mind, is that when WikiLeaks releases documents revealing America’s security soft-spots and Assange’s supporters start taking down the web sites of those who they perceive as disagreeing with them- this movement seems to become increasingly less about free expression and more about creating chaos in the name of truth.

  1. Jim Howard
    December 10, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Robert, I enjoy your blog and usually find myself in agreement with your arguments – when such are made. In this case, I’m on the side of David Samuels and his most recent column in the Atlantic. The real story is not Assange or even his supporters. Revolts never convenient and are rarely pretty, but this is a revolt nontheless of those who wish to be informed of what they’re governments are doing in their name.

    Uprsisings usually don’t meet with the agreement of the establishment – whatever that may be at the time, but in time, they become the establishment of new freedoms and expected conduct of governments and corporations. I see this happening in this uprising in support of Julian Assange. Will some go too far, probably, but where are the stories about the lax security over sensative data on government computers? Where are the calls for accountability? Any firings to date? And what of the disclosures being made everyday about the content of these cables being reported by news organizations around the world – The US paying to operate in Pakistan even while the Pakistani government continues to work against the US, Shell’s influence over an impoverished African oil exporting country, China’s access to Microsoft’s computer code and its probing of US Government computers? There’s a lot of good that is coming from these leaked documents that we just wouldn’t have seen without them.

    There’s much more I could write but David Samuels says it better.

    Again, great blog, you raise some important points that should get wider play, but there’s more to this story and how it is not being covered.

    I’ll buy the first round when we get time to talk more.

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