Hacker group Anonymous is facing increasing scrutiny from The Wall Street Journal, as well as the director of the National Security Agency, Keith Alexander. Via “people familiar with the gatherings,” the Journal accounts that Alexander, the U.S. Army general commanding CYBERCOM, has been attending private, high-level White House meetings warning about the potential for the hacker group Anonymous to bring about a “limited” power outage.
So writes the Journal,
“An attack on a network would be consistent with recent public claims and threats by the group. Last week, for instance, Anonymous announced a plan to shut down the Internet on March 31, which it calls Operation Global Blackout.”
And this description to a large extent agreed with the “we are legion” slogan-loving of Anonymous. Insofar that the activists lack a demonym – like “Anonymouses” – Journal reporter Siobhan Gorman projects onto the group a real sense of solidarity and pretense of inevitability to the group’s motivations, as if this were some clear cut culture war.
But as the Journal also emphasized, Anonymous is only a loose pattern or collective. If the global Internet ever did go down, there would be widespread denial of having carried it out by people calling themselves “Anonymous.” Talking about precise motives for this group, as one might an individual, is an only slightly less tricky business than assigning writ large machinations to any entire nation.
Cautionary tales by the NSA themselves appear to be at least partially the result of early-February posting on Pastebin, giving instructions on how to disable the Internet’s “13 DNS servers.” The preamble to this large public threat to put the Internet in a coma was: “To protest [the Stop Online Piracy Act], Wallstreet [sic], our irresponsible leaders and the beloved bankers who are starving the world for their own selfish needs out of sheer sadistic fun, On March 31, anonymous will shut the Internet down.” Robert David Graham put together a widely circulated rundown of why the proposed attack on the Internet would be ineffective.
”Most denial of service attacks aren’t proceeded by a warning,” said Dan Kaminsky, who helped fix a major flaw in DNS in 2008, speaking to Forbes’ Andy Greenberg. “I’ve talked to various network engineers who are responsible for keeping these servers up, and they’re aware of the threat. They have resources already in place. Anyway, [Anonymous'] disclosure is appreciated.” Kaminsky’s facetious expression of gratitude agrees exactly with his interviewer, Greenberg who, only four days after the Pastebin posting, headlined with, “We’re Being Trolled.”
But the line between mockery and hysteria may prove very thin, indeed, with one report at Consternation Security positing that, in the wake events such as the Iranian army overriding and capturing an RQ-170 drone, Anonymous might be able to hijack the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, or HAARP. It is with HAARP, Consternation claims to report seriously under a shimmering photo of an aurora, that hackers could, after inciting bouts of “headaches, dizziness, confusion, and even insanity,” “quite literally cook the President while he sleeps.”
As Agence France-Presse mentioned, the website of the Central Intelligence Agency was inaccessible the 11th of February after someone in Anonymous claimed they had taken it down. At @YourAnonNews after the takedown, someone tweeted “CIA Tango down,” which, as AFP, explains, “is an expression used by the U.S. Special Forces when they have eliminated an enemy.” However, the use of the phrase in this context is most specifically a reference to 2010 hack by The Jester (@th3j35t3r), apparently disabling the WikiLeaks website.
In its timeline of Anonymous’s taking down websites and compromising information, the Journal didn’t mention that the name of the website for whom the Justice Department website was destabilized in retaliation, MegaUpload. And its name and mission figured heavily into the hacktivist scene surrounding the attempts to discourage smaller web developers interested in user-generated content.
MegaUpload is the now-downed file-sharing website run by a notorious German embezzler who calls himself Kim Dotcom. Significant percentages of the World Wide Web had used his website to view films sometimes not strictly within respective domestic, if not international, licensing laws. The question between activists and IP control enforcers was: How much was the impetus on the administrator of a site to filter for copyrighted material within a certain volume of content?
Previous enforcement pushes and national legislation, such as with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, placed the responsibility to point out offending content on copyright holders, as opposed to the filtering mandates introduced by intellectual property special interests, such as the Recording Industry Association of America. It’s important to understand the intellectual property issues in order to understand what motivates the activists the NSA worries about.
Eduoard Kovacs, news editor for Softpedia, has opined of what he says is the “plausibility” of HAARP hacker assassinations, with such precedents as recent insecurity in supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA). Meanwhile, at least some of those public anxieties, it seems, have turned out to be overblown. A release from the Department of Homeland Security claimed that in fact there was no computer infiltration of an Illinois water system SCADA.