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'Hacktivism' has rattled our rulers

by Patrick Ward

The new policy of the US towards the threat of “cyber attacks” was best explained by one military official as: “If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks.”

In other words, attacks on US computer networks could now be defined as an act of war.

As the bosses come up with more a ways of using the internet to make profits, it has become of vital importance to capitalism.

Every business, bank, government office and military institution is now connected to the same network.

Governments and capitalists are increasingly concerned about online security. Damaging a network can cause huge drops in profits—and seriously embarrassing leaks of information.

There has been a war of words in recent years between states such as the US, Iran and China over allegations of state-organised hacking.

China was accused of illegally accessing the US‑based firm Google, which provoked secretary of state Hillary Clinton to publicly intervene on Google’s behalf.

In recent months a different menace has emerged. The hacker group known as Lulz Security (LulzSec) has made a series of high profile attacks—on the CIA and media firms Fox and Sony.

LulzSec—which disbanded last week after 50 days—is one of the latest groups to use hacking to promote an anti-corporate political message.

Other recent “hacktivists” include the group Anonymous.

It is famous for taking down the websites of Mastercard, Visa and Amazon. It targetted them for their hostile behaviour towards the WikiLeaks website after it leaked thousands of diplomatic cables from US embassies in late 2010.

When the US government introduced its new policy on “cyberwarfare”, LulzSec responded in typical style.

It said, “[Barack Obama and Nato] now treat hacking as an act of war... So, we just hacked an FBI affiliated website [Infragrad—an online security group] and leaked its user base.

“We also took complete control over the site and defaced it.”

A later LulzSec release proclaimed, “Hackers of the world are uniting and taking direct action against our common oppressors—the government, corporations, police and militaries of the world.”

They even hacked the NHS—but with a different message: “While you aren’t considered an enemy—your work is of course brilliant—we did stumble upon several of your admin passwords. We mean you no harm and only want to help you fix your tech issues.”

Control

Governments are desperate to control the online world.

If a shop opens on a high street, it will need to spend money on security measures to protect against break-ins and thefts. And it will require the state to provide police and courts.

The latest software to prevent against cyber attacks doesn’t seem to be enough. This is why governments are getting involved.

But individual governments have less control over the online world. Policing the internet requires international cooperation.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy recently called for international patroling of the “wild west” of the internet.

Groups like LulzSec and Anonymous are a symbol of resistance to these attempts to control the flow of data. Because of this, they can attract the support of substantial numbers of people who are sick at the system we live under.

The recent arrest of Essex teenager Ryan Cleary for his alleged involvement in LulzSec shows how far governments will go.

As the Financial Times said, “[LulzSec’s] real threat, researchers and police said, was that it inspired collective action and rapidly shared such sensitive information as user passwords.

“If it had continued its campaign without arrests, it would have made mockery of cybercrime law enforcement.”

But no matter how ingenious, people cannot overthrow regimes just using a computer.

The internet has been credited with bringing about this year’s Arab revolutions. But the internet is just a tool. It is the mass movement of ordinary people that brings about real change.

The people involved in these groups are not just mindless computer geeks. They are reacting to a system that stops ordinary people from having control.

It is little surprise that some people turn to individual acts of worthy mischief to challenge authority.


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Tue 5 Jul 2011, 16:31 BST
Issue No. 2259
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