In February the Newsnight economics editor Paul Mason very succinctly laid out the radically different nature of recent popular uprisings across North Africa, the Middle East and Europe compared to earlier political movements, and the economic and sociological reasons behind it. This incisive blogpost rang true for many of those involved in those social movements, articulating, as it did, a new sentiment and new political priorities amongst those populations. The short article sketched out a more cohesive image which the media in general was missing, partly through structural failings, but largely because events were unfolding at speed and trying to drag the chaotic events into an understandable analysis was difficult.
Running alongside the (still unfolding) Arab Spring, informing and shaping and being shaped in turn by those events, was a developing online conflict with major similarities; young, optimistic graduates who saw societies in more generalised terms of “power”, highly networked, informal and decentralised decision making processes and a deep cynicism and mistrust of traditional power elites and political ideologies. In the last month especially we’ve seen a series of events and developments that are changing the game of cyber-war (and cyber-class-war).
So what’s going on in cyberspace? What we’re seeing is a significant escalation in serious geo-political combat, and the mainstream press has failed in it’s coverage so far. Perhaps years of rehashing press releases have left many hacks without the critical journalistic capabilities to monitor, study, explain and contextualise the recent events of the cyber-war, leaving the majority of the populace completely in the dark as to what’s happening, and how governments and (unelected) transnational organisations are investing significant resources in an attempt to limit online freedoms.
Make no mistake- this is not a minor struggle between state nerds and rogue geeks- this is the battlefield of the 21st Century, with the terms and conditions of war being configured before our very eyes. Given the significant economic disruption online activism and hacking can cause, and the power online tools have to agitate, plan and execute IRL activism, the current increase in tensions between hackers and the capital/state partnership is every bit as significant as the continuing developments of the Arab Spring, with which the online activist movements are inextricably linked. Below we have laid out a brief overview of recent events. This list is necessarily partial, given the complexity, history and depth of the situation, and we are by no means experts in the field; we would recommend people use it as a jumping off point to help get more educated (we have heavily hyperlinked the text FYI). Get googling.
1. At the heart of it is a newly politicised generation of hackers who have moved from a lulz-based psychic-economy to an engaged, socially-aware and politically active attitude towards world events, primarily as a reaction to the way governments and multinationals dealt with the fallout of Wikileaks. The “politicisation of 4chan” and the birth of Anonymous have set the stage for a practice of socially-engaged hacktivism of a form and scale we’ve not seen before.
2. This new “political hacktivist” class are digital natives and have become evangelised by passing through the immoral free-for-all of 4chan, to the development of a political critique and political programme through Anonymous.“this is the digital natives striking back here
people that live, eat, breathe and sleep on the internet”
(quoting from the lulzsec irc channel yesterday) Digital natives are radicalised primarily by the threat to their internet freedom, with the continued shift in policy by global governments against the assumed freedoms of the net (laid out in the past). A natural by-product will be the continued radicalism of youth online.
3. Much like the IRL uprisings in Africa, Middle East and Europe, there’s a generational aspect to the way this conflict is playing out– although, like those uprisings, this is as much a symptom as a cause. A generation bought up on MTV, fed an endless stream of sophisticated advertising, naturally trained in memetic exchange, are going to know how to fight an infowar much more instinctively, and hence at greater speed and adaptability. An IRL manifestation being the role of the “citizen journalist” in the age of old media’s death rattle.
4. For net natives, there’s a definite sense of an international, borderless identity, whereby on a day-to-day level national borders hold less and less meaning. If your interactions with a fellow computer users are the same whether they live in London, Texas or Cairo, the narratives of national difference start to break down. Instead, they define according to their roles and activities online, and their values and political beliefs: a new, international class of immateriality, with all the repercussions of online solidarity that holds.
5. This erosion of borders has manifested itself strongly in the way newly radicalised hacktivists related to the unfolding events of the Arab Spring. As Paul Mason points out in his blogpost “People have a better understanding of power. The activists have read their Chomsky and their Hardt-Negri, but the ideas therein have become mimetic: young people believe the issues are no longer class and economics but simply power.” This highly problematic retreat from a fundamentally economic analysis has, despite it’s problems, enabled a casual ease with which the issue of international solidarity is approached.
6. There is a growing understanding of the infrastructure and fabric of the internet as a whole by a younger generation that grew up believing that decentralised infrastructure / free speech and the free sovereignity of the net was a given. That pioneer generation is now finding out that those ideals were only utopian notions afforded to them as result of governments slow ability to act and control the flow of data. As an (admittedly simplistic) example, whole organising infrastructures of UK activist and student groups were shut down wholesale during the recent purge of facebook groups.
7. There is an intensity of feedback that fuels the fire. Realtime results can be measured by everyone on the global stage, leading to a fueling of the ego of a close-knit group of hackers who are dropping the share price of a multi-billion pound corporation like Sony because it dared to assault the hacker ethic, one hack at a time.
This is sometimes matched by morale-boosting donations, such as with LulzSec, who yesterday received upwards of $7000 in bitcoins.
8. We are seeing the splintering of “hackers group” Anonymous into multiple manifestations that display a more comprehensive understanding of hacking techniques (although in many cases exploiting relatively low level techniques such as SQL injections; we’re certainly yet to see the use of computer science III).
These emergent groups are able to carry out sustained and targeted attacks under a rebrand of sorts, a multiplicity of approach that cannot be assigned entirely to the collective identity of Anonymous. This often allows group to act without the need to deal with moralfaggotry.
9. Anonymous is breaking apart but only in the sense that the media’s depiction of a grand narrative for the “hacking movement” ever held any truth. Anonymous as a group has always been inherently pluralistic with a healthy but constant wave of fail raids.
What creates this logical divergence from a single hive mind is the shift from a necessity for op in botnet assemblies, facilitated through the use of LOIC (Low Orbit Ion Cannon), with the DDoS now relegated to just another tool in a growing arsenal of a disparate emergent hackers movement.
10. The continued evolution of Operation Payback demonstrates both the power of this hacktivism, and how underdeveloped defence systems are. Op Payback was launched back in September 2010 as a reaction to the hiring of Aiplex Software by Bollywood movie rights holders, for the purpose of DDoSin’ The Pirate Bay for copyright infringment. During the first wave of attacks a large number of anons originating from 4chan targeted RIAA, MPAA and ACS:LAW in a revenge attack in defence of internet sovereignty.
The operation evolved into a targeted attack on a series of laws firms who had targeted file sharers with legal threats. ACS:LAW was the worst hit when their database was leaked online leading to the demise of the company.
These attacks continued, targeting, amongst others, Sarah Palin and Gene Simmons.
With the advent of the Wikileaks Cablegate saga we saw an escalation of Op Payback, in defence of the organisation with the creation of hundreds of mirrors for the site, the alternative dissemination of leaks and the attack on those that had withdrawn services to the organisation as a result of state pressure.
The operation has again shifted gears with it now focusing on the PROTECT IP Bill.
11. Beyond Anonymous and hacktivism there exists a greater threat, and despite the reaction of Anonymous to the rhetoric of the Pentagon, much of the new mantra being espoused by governments globally relates to the first age of real cyber warfare. With entire parts of infrastructure now plugged into the network, there exists a real threat and possibility for hacker/cyberattack based offensives across borders. We saw this during the South Ossetia War in 2008, when Georgia suffered extensive damage from cyberattack, or in the ongoing standoff between Iran and the US/Israel, where the US/Israel succeeded in feeding Stuxnet, a worm, into the Iranian nuclear programme infrastructure.
12. Governments are responding with a conscious and concerted effort to reframe cyber activity and activism as criminality against state and capital, which, no doubt, will soon be upgraded to a form of terrorism. This bears analogies to similar reframing of narratives around workers movements throughout the 19th and 20th Century, not least the “strategy of tension” in Italy in the 1970s.
The eG8 summit, held at the end of May, was part of this restructuring of the official relationship between State and Net. Nicholas Sarkozy spoke to attendees (including Mark Zuckerberg) on the cultural repercussions of Facebook et al, but his speech betrayed a more pointed message for those who seek IRL change through virtual means, as reported on IPtegrity-“The Internet is ‘not a parallel universe stripped of morals and all of the fundamental principles which govern society in democratic countries’, he said.
‘Don’t let the technology that you have forged…the revolution that have started [sic] … carry along the bad things without any brakes, don’t let it become an instrument in the hands of thow [sic] who would attack our security and therefore our liberty and our integrity.’
13. The Pentagon have declared cyberterrorism and cyberattacks as a conventional attack of war, with the right for reprisals.
14. NATO have also begun to redefine the parameters of war in relation to cyber attacks and acts of “cyberterrorism”, declaring conventional retalliation to acts of “cyberwarfare” to be legitimate. The Information and National Security subsection of the NATO Spring Report this year is focused very specifically on Cablegate and Anonymous as known identities. This is the first time a NATO report has cited the existence of Anonymous.
“Observers note that Anonymous is becoming more and more sophisticated and could potentially hack into sensitive government, military, and corporate files.”
In the same paragraph it is suggested that “It remains to be seen how much time Anonymous has for pursuing such paths. The longer these attacks persist the more likely countermeasures will be developed, implemented, the groups will be infiltrated and perpetrators persecuted.”
15. Anonymous reacted directly to the Spring Report and “declared war on NATO”. Perhaps you may think this is the idle threat of basement dwellers, but NATO certainly don’t. Things are changing at unprecedented speed in the infowar.
16. Anonymous have started to engage in more active outreach programmes, such as bootcamp training. This is of particular importance for the generation that grew up online or politicised through anonymous and 4chan, many who were drawn to the “movement” with more radical inclinations and have had the time now to develop a deeper understanding of hacking tools etc… or at very least become adept skiddys.
Much of this is basic advice for how to look after yourself online, a form of practical mutual aid analogous to the protest handbooks distributed by Anonymous during the North African uprisings; rather than advice on how to build a shield to protect yourself against watercannon, these “bootcamps” feature advice on how to use proxies and encrypt data, for example.
17. Governments worldwide are now entering a race to mass-recruit cyberwarriors in order to bolster cyberdefense, with UK security services launching the “Cyber Security Challenge” as an attempt to create an army of white hats.
Yesterday Lulzsec’s twitter account jumped from hundreds to 75,000 followers. Lulzsec is fundamentally representative of the evolution loosely drawn out in previous points. They appear to descend if only in lulzy rhetoric from the likes of Goatse Security, the GNAA and Gnosis.
19. Despite the enormous presumed weighting in favour of the authorities, hackers still hold primacy, and that’s what gives the situation such political potency. When the white hat security firm HBGary Federal attempted to create an expose of the true face of Anonymous they were swiftly shut down by a sustained assault by anonymous that clearly demonstrated their abilities, illustrating the inherent security flaws created by human complacency.
20.Hackers are upping their game to match the rhetoric used against them; indeed, in the past few years security breaches have shown the potential weaknesses in systems that could, in future, be exploited as part of war. Today, however, hackers are, essentially, exploiting those breaches. When a group makes a “significant and tenacious” attack on a lynchpin of the military-industrial complex like Lockheed Martin, talks of “potential” cyberwar become a thing of the past. We have arrived, we are deep within the first cyberwar.
As a hacker wrote last Saturday, “We all know that cyberspace has come to an intense moment of confrontation; it will become more and more difficult to focus on the very reasons of the conflict opening, as the fog of war is rising.” We are no experts in the field, but given the increased tempo and ever thicker “fog of war” we felt these events and organisations need wider discussion. Developing a general public understanding of these issues is vital if we are to prevent governments manipulating our understanding of events in order to suppress the sovereignty of the internet.The hacker cause, if such a thing can be pinned down, must surely be opening up the free flow of all information as widely as possible.
The mainstream media are proving incapable or unwilling to contextualise, to bring light to complicated, discreet and hidden worlds and languages; whilst they dither on the Assange personality cult, and whether it’s possible to be both a liberal messiah and a rapist simultaneously, governments are writing the script for the next decade of online repression. Equally, those currently engaged in online skirmishes should at least heed examples from the past.
We must educate ourselves, but beyond this we must engage practically in the application of the tools we currently have. As the events unfolding begin to accelerate at a pace not unlike the Arab Spring, we should look to the technologies and networks that are being developed such as diaspora, a p2p DNS, flattr and bitcoin. There is a necessity now to understand the implication of such projects and the pursuit of their pragmatic ideals, so that we can begin to push the current trajectory of the net away from ever-increasing control and surveillance and towards a liberatory project of free information exchange.
Cave Anonymous' mantra:
"Knowledge is free.
We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us."