Dec
12
2010

It’s a cyber war, and WikiLeaks is the cause

Folks, we could be at the verge of the very first global war on technology. Or at least, that’s what the hackers want us to think.

The battle centres on Washington’s fierce attempts to close down WikiLeaks and shut off the supply of confidential US government cables. For those of you who haven’t kept up with the latest news, WikiLeaks is a well-known whistleblower site that encourages people to post secret documents they’ve managed to get their hands on, so they can be made public and the information contained within made known to everyone – and the people responsible are kept completely anonymous. Lately, WikiLeaks is responsible for leaking the content of a long chain of confidential documents and communications between the US government. Naturally, the US are a little pissed off about it. Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, said those who passed the secrets to WikiLeaks should be executed. Sarah Palin demanded the founder of WikiLeaks be hunted in the same way an al-Qaeda operative would be pursued.

Recently, the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, was arrested in Britain, after British authorities received an arrest warrant from Swedish prosecutors eager to question him on unrelated allegations of rape. News of his arrest, even on unrelated charges, pleased the US authorities. “That sounds like good news to me,” said Robert Gates, US secretary of defence. The US now want Assange to answer to the actions of those using his website to leak the government cables, and his role in helping the leaks get widespread, and have made calls for Assange to be extradited to the US to face charges of espionage.

Yet even as Assange prepared to appear in a London court last week, an unlikely alliance of defenders had begun plotting to turn on the forces circling WikiLeaks. They were beginning to attack Amazon, which had been persuaded to sever links with WikiLeaks by Joe Lieberman, who heads the US Senate’s homeland security committee; they also hit every domain name system (DNS) that broke WikiLeaks.org’s domain name: Mastercard, Visa and Paypal, which stopped facilitating donations to the site, and the Swiss post office which froze WikiLeaks’ bank account.

The actions have all been part of a cyber attack by hackers wanting to avenge Assange for what they see as his many contributions to the “global good” and for his willingness to defend the right to free speech, which they all believe must be protected at all costs. Dubbed Operation Avenge Assange, the hack Operation is a spin-off of an older Hacking Operation known as Operation Payback, which originally targeted America’s recording industry, but now joins in the fight for Assange as well. Both operate anonymously, and are made up of a loose alliance of hackers united by a near-obsessive desire for information libertarianism, most of whom congregate on the website 4Chan.org.

But the clash has cast the spotlight wider, on the net’s power to act as a thorn not only in the side of authoritarian regimes but western democracies, on our right to information and the responsibility of holding secrets. It has also asked profound questions over the role of the net itself. One blogger dubbed it the “first world information war”.

Attempts have been made to railroad WikiLeaks off the net, but all of the attempts have quickly failed. Removing its hosting servers has increased WikiLeaks’ ability to stay online. More than 1,300 volunteer “mirror” sites, including the French newspaper Libération, have already surfaced to store the classified cables. Within days the WikiLeaks web content had spread across so many enclaves of the internet it was immune to attack by any single legal authority.

In some respects, WikiLeaks has never been safer or as aggressively defended. As Assange was remanded in custody and taken to Wandsworth jail, Anonymous vowed to “punish” the institutions that had axed links with the website under pressure from the US authorities. The websites of Visa, Mastercard and PayPal were brought down; as well as the Swedish government’s. One Anonymous hacker said: “I’ve rambled on and on about the ‘oncoming internet war’ for years. I’m not saying I know how to win. But I am saying the war is on.”

Describing it as a “war” would depend on what exactly you class as one, as certainly this is not a war in the “traditional” sense – not yet, anyway. But this certainly looks like it could become some sort of global battle – only this time, the weapons of choice are the internet itself. Brace yourself – it looks like this could get very hairy.

Digiprove sealThis informative article has been Digiproved © 2010

6 Responses

  1. It appears as though Julian Assange will at least be out on bail any minute but what about Bradley Manning? Solitary confinement for 7 months so far without being tried and convicted of anything, without a trial, even. That’s wrong!

    • Was he the one that brought in Music CDs, then wiped them and rewrote them, copying military data onto them? I heard he was expected to be court-marshalled in Spring 2011, but he still needs to go through a pretrial hearing first.

  2. You are very smart. I will come back again.

  3. Real journalist work and helpful summary. It’s amazing how good quality info can be found in the dark alleys of the internet ;).

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    • At the moment I have no intention to introduce any kind of advertising on Technically Motivated. The exception is the Affiliate Links, which you could argue whether they count or not.