You are hereHuffington Post: Anonymous And The War Over The Internet
Huffington Post: Anonymous And The War Over The Internet
This article is the first in a two-part series tracing the development of the amorphous online community known as Anonymous, pranksters who have become a force in global affairs.
-By Saki Knafo
January 30, 2012- Late in the afternoon of Jan. 19, the U.S. Department of Justice website vanished from the Internet. Anyone attempting to visit it to report a crime or submit a complaint received a message saying the site was unable to load. More websites disappeared in rapid succession. The Recording Industry Association of America. The Motion Picture Association of America. Universal Music. Warner Brothers. The FBI.
By nightfall, most of the sites had come back online, but the people responsible for the outages had made their point. They'd landed what they hailed as the biggest blow yet in an escalating war for control of the Internet, and in one of their online command centers, "Phoenix" and his associates were celebrating.
Phoenix, a college student, is a member of Anonymous, the loose coalition of hackers, pranksters and other creatures of the Internet who have made headlines over the last 13 months for attacks on the computer systems of a wide range of targets: MasterCard, Visa and PayPal; the San Francisco public transit system; a Texas think tank; Sony; a host of computer-security companies; authoritarian governments in Tunisia and Egypt.
Phoenix wouldn't call himself a "member," of course. Much like Occupy Wall Street, a movement with which it has many ties, Anonymous technically has no official membership, hierarchy or specific agenda. Some "anons" do wield more influence than others and the resulting resentments have led to bitter internecine feuds, but its overall lack of an official power structure is essential to its identity and perhaps its survival. As Anonymous put it in a taunting statement to NATO, another recent object of its unfriendly attentions, "You can't cut off the head of a headless snake."
The snake seems to have a certain sense of direction, however, as the Jan. 19 attacks suggested. The inciting incident took place earlier that day in the hills outside Auckland, New Zealand, when local police landed two helicopters on the lawn of a man who calls himself Kim Dotcom and owns Megaupload, a hugely popular online service that enables people to share and store movies and other media for free.
Authorities shut down the site and arrested Dotcom and six colleagues, accusing them in a 72-page indictment of engaging in acts of "massive worldwide online piracy" that inflicted $500 million in damages on copyright holders while bringing in more than $175 million in profits.
The news spread quickly. A message went out on Anonymous Twitter accounts exhorting people to attack the Justice Department and several piracy-fighting trade groups. By clicking on a link, they could launch a page that asked them to identify a target. Thousands typed in the address of the Justice Department site and clicked enter, bombarding it with a fusillade of meaningless commands. Overwhelmed, the site froze and dropped offline.
In the chat network where Anonymous coordinated the attacks, the virtual warriors declared victory with a military phrase: "TANGO DOWN."
Part war, part game. Given the culture of the Internet, it's reasonable to assume that many of those who responded to Anonymous' call were teenagers. The software used to fire these Internet missiles was the Low Orbit Ion Cannon, a name lifted from the video game "Command & Conquer." Yet the consequences of firing it were real -- a major law enforcement agency's web site was temporarily crippled, leaving the agency to observe that there had been a "degradation in service."
Last year, 14 anons were arrested in the United States for using the Ion Cannon to attack PayPal. Some now face the possibility of 15-year prison sentences.
Phoenix wasn't around when the Jan. 19 attack went down, but later that night, I found him in an Anonymous chat room and asked him to explain the motivations behind it.
"You've heard Anons say before that this is a war," he said. "A full scale information war. That's not mere propaganda, many regard that as a perfectly accurate description. And the stake at play is, simply, 'Who will control access to information? Everyone or a small subset?'"
In case it wasn't clear, he then labeled that subset: "The government."