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

    Wife of IS Leader Charged in Death of US Hostage

    Suspect allegedly admitted to being responsible for American aid worker Kayla Mueller, who officials say was sexually abused and ‘owned’ by one IS member

    Year of the Monkey Could Prove Economic Balancing Act for China

    China is up against a tricky situation on the financial front, facing the need to fight capital flight while also stopping a further slide of foreign currency reserves

    Runners Attempt 26-mile South Pole Marathon in Sub-Zero Temperatures

    How alluring is running 26.2 miles at 10,000 feet when it’s minus 31 Celsius out?

    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.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.