Are we starting a full-out war on the Internet?

WikiLeaks is the perfect storm for all past issues on the net, but I’m afraid it also will draw us into a future that I’ve believed was coming and didn’t want to talk about. We don’t like to think about how much our civilization depends on the proper running of computer networks, and how vulnerable they are. Whoever it is that attacking Mastercard and Paypal are anonymous. They could be teenagers (that’s what we hope) but they could also be professionals working for foreign governments, or even the US government.

I watch my friends root for the attackers and think this is the way wars always begin. The “fighting the good fight” spirit. Let’s go over there and show them who we are. Let’s make a symbolic statement. By the time the war is underway, we won’t remember any of that. We will wonder how we could have been so naive to think that war was something wonderful or glorious. People don’t necessarily think of wars being fought on the net and over the net, but new technology comes to war all the time, and one side often doesn’t understand.

Are we starting a full-out war on the Internet?

This is as good a time as any to re-iterate my anti-vigilante stance.

However, that cyberwar is breaking out largely between non-state actors (in response to actions by state actors, but still).


  1. The usual thing. The ends and means are not separable. You can’t promote freedom, free speech, and transparency by shutting down those that disagree. Paypal and Mastercard were certainly in their legal rights to sever relationships with wikileaks, whatever one may think of the ethical nature (or not) of wikileaks actions. So…the message is, you were within your rights, but we didn’t like it, so we will commit crimes against you until you give in. Not commenting on whether wikileaks’ revelations may be beneficial, or whether the charges against assange are politically driven, or whether the government actions they are outing do or don’t stink. …but if you want to claim you are an outlet for journalism, you might want to avoid being the first “media outlet” to orchestrate DOS attacks. Not even FOX does that, though something tells me that Limbaugh or Beck’s listeners might not be so adept at using the LOIC software.

  2. FWIW, WikiLeaks didn’t orchestrate the attacks, 4Chan users did, though I haven’t seen anything about WikiLeaks denouncing the attacks (Also, Assange has been in jail since before it began).

  3. Had there been absolutely no response, then the various powerful establishment factions such as the credit card companies, and online retailers would have known that it was absolutely safe to kow-tow to government pressure to shut down provocative web-sites.

    The problem with most “acceptable” forms of “protest,” is that they are ineffectual and easily ignored. I attended an anti-RNC demonstration and an anti-war demonstration, mostly to observe the dynamics of the event. I was never under the impression that such mass gatherings had any impact on policy. Can you imagine Bush and Cheney looking out their Oval Office window and saying, “Holy Shit! Look at all these people against the war! It must be wrong! Let’s change our policy immediately!” No, they knew what they were doing was unpopular and against the public interest. They just didn’t care. It’s the same with the ganging up on Wikileaks; the big boys know it’s wrong, but they just don’t care and they’ll do what’s most expedient. Which is why the activists want to make it more expedient to kow-tow to them, rather than the government, which almost certainly engaged in vigilantism of its own.

  4. Snorky points out the double bind, which is that polite protest is often ignored. On the other hand, it’s hard to say whether these companies are kow-towing to government pressure or whether they simply think that most of their customers will disapprove of wikileaks support. Unfortunately, these companies are within their rights, regardless of their reasons. When wikileaks supporters resort to coercion (I’ll refrain from calling it terrorism, though the difference is mostly one of the degree and violence of coercion), they do a disservice to the cause they claim to support. If the goal is truly to be *more coercive* than governments…well, apart from the fact that that’s alousy goal…governments have more resources and practice. Some may think me naive, but if you want to change what’s going on around here, you need to do something different, not just do the same thing better (or more forcefully) than your opponents. One may argue that they’d have used any excuse, but I think the current DOS attacks will be used to shut down arguments for internet freedom in the coming rush to new legislation. I hope I’m wrong, but I think the last couple of weeks may have trashed several decades worth of internet freedom lobbying and activism. Who knows…maybe this will spark public debate and lead to a new era of openness. Yeah. Uh huh. …or perhaps we’re about to get some laws that will make COICA look like the good ol’ days.

  5. @Bill Whitcomb-

    With regard to the so-called “privacy” of the property in question, the internet would not exist would tax-payer funding, period. Additionally, so-called private spheres lose key elements of their privacy when used and heavily relied on by the public. Of course, this does not stop private property owners from vigorously agitating to enforce their perceived right to absolute control. The U.S. Constitution does not apply on private property the way it does on public property, or so the Supreme Court has ruled.

    Why doesn’t the government lock down the internet because of the pervasive of free pornography, or violent video-games? Why doesn’t it lock down the internet because of spam, or viruses, or trojans, or various criminal activity?

    Why does it take the disclosure of what is essentially tax-payer, citizen funded activity to get their panties in a bunch? These people take our money, claim to be our “servants,” and but then assert that we cannot know how our money is being used to “serve” us?

    Tell me another one.

    They don’t need Julian Assange or Anonymous as an excuse because they’ve been jonesing to do it for awhile. If they try to take it away, or succeed, they’re only using these phenomena as a pretext. The truth is, they were never committed to the internet being free in any sense of the word. They just made it free temporarily to hook people on it.

    In any case, they should be vigorously opposed in every sense of the word.

    Additionally, if coercion is such a lousy tactic, why do governments and corporations use it? They don’t want the public to use it because they know that it produces results. Why else would they use it themselves and attempt to convince people not to use it?

  6. I think it’s probably worth trying to define vigilantism, and in reality what Anonymous is doing probably doesn’t qualify. DDoS is Internet thuggery, but it’s not the same as, say, murdering someone who you think is a criminal. So I should probably dial that back.

    It’s also worth distinguishing “direct action” from vigilantism – and acknowledging that some forms of action cross a line and some don’t.

    But to come back around to the original point – Snorky, you’re exhibiting EXACTLY the sort of behavior that Weiner is talking about in the excerpt above.

    A DDoS “war” (I’m not convinced “war” is really an appropriate term here) isn’t good for anyone, and it doesn’t help with anything.

    Interestingly, 2600 magazine has condemned Anonymous’s actions, but mostly for giving “hackers” a bad name and not for poisoning the metaphorical well:

    Anonymous has already changed tactics:

    On the one hand, it sounds like a good use of people’s time. On the other, just getting the info out to people doesn’t necessarily change anything (see

    It might be worth noting that neither DDoS attacks nor traditional activism has stopped the Church of Scientology.

  7. You might want to note that, whether you define it as vigilantism or not, it’s a felony in the US, and an equally serious crime somewhere else. Anonymous likes to describe what they’re doing as “civil disobedience”, but that’s incorrect: you don’t practice civil disobedience when you’re doing it on a basis on not taking the direct and immediate risk of facing arrest.

    Now, there will be a reckoning coming. The government hasn’t been shown that “people will fight back”. They’ve been shown that there are a couple of thousands “criminal malcontents” who are attacking critical national infrastructure (yes, the Internet is “critical national infrastructure”.

    Better still, since LOIC does nothing to mask your IP address, I’d estimate that, oh, 98% of the brave participant have broadcasted their very own personal identifier, thousands of times a second, in the course of their efforts. Since they were helpfully pre-announcing their targets, down to the port number, it’s not too difficult to imagine that there was someone on the other, busily taking down all the IP numbers participating in the attack.

    As I’m sure other countries, like Switzerland, Sweden, etc., have done, and they’ll all be comparing notes. And then they’ll all be sending warrants to the various ISPs, to find out just who belongs to which IP address.

    That’s when the tears are gonna start.

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