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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Internet backlash

The Guardian has a fascinating article about the on-line backlash against those who are seeking to close down the Wikileaks site.

They say that the response to the WikiLeaks' cable release had been savage, particularly in the US: Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, said those who passed the secrets to Assange should be executed. Sarah Palin demanded Assange be hunted in the same way an al-Qaida operative would be pursued. The US attorney general Eric Holder ordered his officials to begin a criminal investigation into Assange with the intention of putting him on trial in the US.

The Wiklileaks fightback involves a loose network of on-line activists spread across the World. The paper says that the initial attacks against the Swiss PostFinance required about 200 computers. But within a day hackers were able to recruit thousands more pro-WikiLeaks footsoldiers and by the time the Visa and Mastercard websites were disrupted last Wednesday, close to 3,000 computers were involved.

They add that Anonymous leaders began distributing software tools to allow anyone with a computer to join Payback and that so far more than 9,000 users in the US have downloaded the software; in second place is the UK with 3,000. Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, France, Spain, Poland, Russia and Australia follow with more than 1,000. The 11th country embroiled in the attacks is Sweden, where WikiLeaks's massive underground servers are housed, with 75 downloads:

Sean-Paul Correll, a cyber threat analyst at Panda Security, who has monitored Operation Payback since its conception, said it was impossible to "profile" those involved. "They are anonymous and they are everywhere," he said. "They have day jobs. They are adults and kids. It is just a bunch of people." Middle-class professional members working alongside self-styled anarchists.

Ostensibly, Anonymous is a 24-hour democracy run by whoever happens to be logged on; leaders emerge and disappear depending on the target that is being attacked and the whims of members. Correll said: "This group does not exist with some sort of hierarchy. It exists with a few organisers but these can change at any time. That gives the group great power in that it is impossible to trace and define. At the same time it is also a source of weakness as its actions can be unfocused."

Faced with such a diverse and ill-defined enemy even the United Stetes Government may have difficulty containing this sudden rash of openness. Has the real power of the internet finally been unleashed.
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