News / USA

WikiWars

"The Jester" says he's responsible for knocking Wikileaks off the Internet. "Anonymous" say they're targeting MasterCard and PayPal as punishment for stopping transfers to the controversial site. Across the web, a war is waging between supporters and opponents of Wikileaks. Will it be enough to tear a hole in the Internet?

WikiWars
WikiWars

By 9am Wednesday, the IRC chatboards were on fire.

<Anon_dude>: mastercard.com is NOT down - KEEP FIRING

<laowai>: MASTERCARD on stock market : -6.38

<matamou>: Saizad: mastercard is the target!

<malak>: ps. we are winning<blake7>: we are anonymous

Over 1,200 participants had gathered online at the impromptu website anonops.net and were already several hours into their massive cyber-attack on the MasterCard website.  Calling themselves "anonymous", the hackers hoped to flood the company's pages with web traffic, crashing the site - or at least gumming things up enough to make life miserable for the credit card giant. The reason: "punishment" for MasterCard's decision to stop fund transfers to Wikileaks.

An hour later, the attacks seemed to be working.  But already, "hacktivists" on the other side were planning a counter-strike against Wikileaks; a strike they hoped would once again take the secret-busting website offline and out-of-view.

Welcome to the WikiWars.

Across the Internet, activists, hackers, and general mischief-makers are deploying the tricks of their trade, either in support of Wikileaks' decision to publish classified U.S. diplomatic cables, or to bring Wikileaks and its allies to their knees.  Using tactics such as"denial of service attacks", "Google-bombing" and others more arcane, partisans have turned the Web into a battlefield of sorts, as they debate and argue over the roles and responsibilities of journalists, online activists and governments in the digital age.

The battle may not have started with Wikileaks, but their actions have added hot fuel to the fight - and the rhetoric.

"It is an ongoing act of war, of sabotage, against the United States," says Caroline Glick, deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post and senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy. "That means that Wikileaks as an entity has to be declared a foreign terrorist organization, and all the people associated with it have to be treated as illegal enemy combatants."

And from the other side, the rhetoric is startlingly similar.  "The first serious infowar is now engaged," wrote John Perry Barlow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.  "The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are the troops."

The opening shots in this fight came almost immediately after Wilileaks' co-founder Julian Assange announced the much-anticipated publication of unseen, sometimes classified U.S. diplomatic cables on his website.  Critics of the release moved quickly, swamping Wikileaks' host computers with requests; in effect, creating a virtual blizzard of web traffic that, for a time, prevented anyone from accessing the site.

Their victory, however, was short-lived.  Anticipating the attack, Wikileaks began moving its site from host to host and domain to domain, switching web addresses and hop-scotching traffic across a tangle of hidden locations in an effort to elude future attacks. This virtual game of "Whack-a-Mole" continues to this day.

Soon a figure familiar to the "hacktivist" community who goes by the name "The Jester" began to take credit for knocking Wikileaks offline on several occasions - for what he claimed were patriotic reasons.  The Jester vowed to fight as long as Wikileaks remained online.

"This is not an unprecedented attack," says Hal Roberts, fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. Roberts has studied denial of service - or "ddos" - attacks around the world, particularly those launched from authoritarian regimes like Burma. The Wikileaks attacks, he says, are nothing new...and neither are the boastful claims of responsibility.

Listen to our complete interview with Hal Roberts:

"Even though there's a specific person claiming responsibility for the attacks on Wikileaks, the actual computers that are being used to attack Wikileaks are computers of people who have no idea what's going on," says Roberts.

"The Jester is claiming responsibilty for attacks on Wikileaks," he says.  "On the other side we have what's not really an organization but a very loose movement that calls itself 'anonymous' which is really an emergent community that organizes itself on a variety of discussion boards online."  The MasterCard attack was just one skirmish.

And while both sides may lay claim to some victories, Roberts says they employ very different methods.

"The Jester uses clever tricks and apparently a small number of machines; by contrast anonymous uses mass numbers of widely-distributed hackers," he says.  While this "hive-mind" tactic has been employed before - notably by hackers associated with 4chan - Roberts is skeptical the 'anonymous' attacks will have much of an effect.

That's a shame, says Glick, who advocates for a much more aggressive response by the U.S. government - both in the real and the virtual worlds.

"This is an act of cyber-warfare against the United States, an act of information warfare against the United States," she says.  "And I haven't seen the United States bringing to bear any sort of doctrine for defending itself against this kind of attack.  And that's what's so startling."

Listen to our complete interview with Caroline Glick:

Declaring Assange and Wikileaks as illegal enemy combatants and sabateurs, she says, would "...open up a whole host of actions that you can take against Wikileaks."  Among those: banning the website, cutting off its funding, apprehending and interrogating Assange, and even loosing the considerable resources of the U.S. government to knock Wikileaks off the web for good.

Glick goes a step further, saying that those media outlets that received the cables - such as the New York Times and Der Spiegel - should be prosecuted under the 1917 Espionage Act.  But, she adds, "I don't think under the current political climate in the Western world that it's possible to make the media pay a price for the kinds of things that they're doing."

She's not alone in invoking treason and punishment.  California Senator Dianne Feinstein (D) has called for felony charges against Assange under the 1917 law, and Delaware Senator Joe Lieberman (I) has labeled the Australian national a traitor.

It's tough talk, and it comes as no surprise to John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF.

"This was gonna happen sooner or later," he says.  "I actually thought it might happen before now, but this seems to be the opening salvo in what is going to be a protracted struggle."

Barlow and the EFF have been at the forefront of numerous online freedom battles, and this one is no exception.

"We support the right the right to know.  We support the right of a populace in a democracy to be informed," says Barlow.  While granting that some of the leaked information may be "hazardous" to some individuals, the EFF is generally supportive of what Wikileaks is doing.

"EFF takes the position that Wikileaks, having acquired the information, has the right to disseminate it, and nobody has the right to shut them or anyone else down online."

It's a fairly robust position of support that few other organizations have taken publicly...in part, Barlow admits, due to the complicated nature of the issues, the Wikileaks organization, and co-founder Assange.  However, keeping with the battlefield metaphor, he says sometimes you choose the fight, and sometimes it chooses you.

"I can't say that Mr. Assange makes the absolutely perfect poster child, especially given these allegations in Sweden, and I also think that some of the things that were released are troublesome," admits Barlow.  "But you take the battle that you've got."

There are growing, and unsubstantiated, rumors online that the U.S. government may have already engaged in this cyber-battle, asserting pressure on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) or firms like Amazon and PayPal that had provided Wikileaks support or host computers - but only for a while.  And there are other rumors that perhaps activists like The Jester aren't working completly alone.

"Sure there are hints," says Hal Roberts.  "In this case you can certainly look at these attacks and say 'Hmm, it seems like it's in the interest of the U.S. government to have this site go down', and in fact many other governments around the world that don't want these cables released."  However such hints are only suspicions and notoriously difficult to prove.

In the end, most observers believe Wikileaks will remain online and continue to publish secret documents, angering many in power around the globe.

And the online activists - pro and con - aren't slowing their battleplans, either.

On his Twitter feed, the Jester tweets:

TANGO DOWN - for attempting to endanger the lives of our troops, 'other assets' & foreign relations

And just 12 hours after launching their MasterCard barrage, 'anonymous' is regrouping for the next assault.  It's moved off anonops.net to another site, but in an outgoing message, one of the hive-mind warned simply, "...payback's a b***h."

And the WikiWars rage on.


Doug Bernard

dbjohnson+voanews.com

Doug Bernard covers cyber-issues for VOA, focusing on Internet privacy, security and censorship circumvention. Previously he edited VOA’s “Digital Frontiers” blog, produced the “Daily Download” webcast and hosted “Talk to America”, for which he won the International Presenter of the Year award from the Association for International Broadcasting. He began his career at Michigan Public Radio, and has contributed to "The New York Times," the "Christian Science Monitor," SPIN and NPR, among others. You can follow him @dfrontiers.

You May Like

Kurdish President: More Needed to Defeat Islamic State

In interview with VOA's Persian Service, Massoud Barzani says peshmerga forces have not received weapons, logistical support needed to successfully fight IS in northern Iraq More

Sierra Leone's Stray Dog Population Doubles During Ebola Crisis

Many dog owners fear their pets could infect them with the virus and have abandoned them, leading to the increase and sparking fears of rabies More

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

New methods for mapping pain in the brain not only validate sufferers of chronic pain but might someday also lead to better treatment More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Paini
X
Shelley Schlender
April 20, 2015 7:03 PM
Pain has a purpose - it can stop you from touching a flame or from walking on a broken leg. As an injury heals, the pain goes away. Usually. But worldwide, one out of every five people suffers from pain that lasts for months and years, leading to lost jobs, depression, and rising despair when medical interventions fail or health experts hint that a pain sufferer is making it up. From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Italy Rescues Migrants After Separate Deadly Capsize Incident

Italy continued its massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Monday for the capsized boat off the coast of Libya that was carrying hundreds of migrants, while at the same time rescuing Syrian migrants from another vessel off the coast of Sicily. Thirteen children were among the 98 Syrian migrants whose boat originated from Turkey on the perilous journey to Europe.
Video

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs