Q&A Friday #108: What Are Your Thoughts About The FBI’s Crackdown On 14 Members Of Anonymous

Question: What are your thoughts about the FBI’s crackdown on 14 members of Anonymous? How is a socially motivated distributed denial of service attack ethically different from jamming a Congressman’s phone lines over a political issue? Does the Anonymous crackdown signify the beginning of the end of the Wild West era on these here internets? — President Friedman

Answer: The question is in reference to this story.

Sixteen people were arrested in the United States today in connection with hacking attacks by the Anonymous group of online activists, as well as one person in the U.K. and four people in the Netherlands, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

…As part of “Operation Payback,” Anonymous organized a distributed denial-of-service attack that shut down PayPal’s site, as well as that of Visa and MasterCard. PayPal cut WikiLeaks off citing violations of its terms of service after WikiLeaks released a large amount of classified U.S. State Department cables in late November. The decentralized Anonymous collective has been targeting computer attacks on government and corporate Web sites, including Monsanto, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the City of Orlando, and Sony, as well as government sites in Egypt, Turkey, and Tunisia. (See our chart of recent hacking attacks here.) Anonymous often issues warnings and statements saying the attacks are done to protest Internet censorship and alleged government corruption or corporate malfeasance.

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The hackers primarily use DDoS attacks, which are designed to temporarily cripple Web sites. To do that, they enlist supporters to use software on their computers that sends so many requests to access a targeted Web site that it overwhelms the site with traffic, effectively shutting it down. The hackers also claimed to have compromised servers to steal data that was then released to the public.

I used to work for an ISP wholesaler and let me tell you, you’re not as anonymous as you think on the net. If the FBI wants to track you down badly enough, it probably can. Hackers tend to get away with it mainly because the FBI doesn’t want to expend the effort.

So, is it the end of the Wild West era? No, because it still takes a lot of time and effort to track down the bad guys. Until the Internet backbone is redesigned, this is going to continue to be a problem.

Is a “socially motivated distributed denial of service attack ethically different from jamming a Congressman’s phone lines over a political issue?”

No, it’s not. These are people breaking the law to try to harm people who disagree with them politically and since it does take so much time and effort to track these people down, I’d like to see these hackers spend a decade or two in jail to set an example. They might be “doing it for the lulz,” but this isn’t a game. It’s politically motivated criminal harassment and the full force of the government should be brought down on the people doing it.

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