Anonymous hacked a U.S. Government website several times in the last few days. The loosely formed “hacktivist” group has defaced the site with threatening messages and videos—and even provided code enabling visitors to play the classic video game Asteroids.
The operation conducted by Anonymous is aimed at the U.S. Department of Justice which the group indentifies as being a corrupt and fraudulent institution.
A video called “Last Resort” stated in a quasi-robotic English accent, “Citizens of the world—Anonymous has observed for some time now the trajectory of justice in the United States with growing concern. We have marked the departure of this system from the noble ideals in which it was born and enshrined. We have seen the erosion of due process, the dilution of constitutional rights, the usurpation of the rightful authority of courts by the “discretion” or prosecutors. We have seen how the law is wielded less and less to uphold justice, and more and more to exercise control, authority and power in the interests of oppression or personal gain.”
Anonymous states they were instigated by the suicide of open-internet activist Aaron Swartz who was under indictment for cyber crimes and facing a potential “35 years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, restitution, forfeiture and a fine of up to $1 million.”
Swartz, a Harvard research fellow, had used a computer code script on a laptop plugged into the school network to obtain a large quantity of JSTOR documents. JSTOR is a subscription-based online database of academic articles, white papers and periodicals.
“Two weeks ago today, a line was crossed,” stated the Anon vid. “Two weeks ago today, Aaron Swartz was killed. Killed because he faced an impossible choice. Killed because he was forced into playing a game he could not win — a twisted and distorted perversion of justice — a game where the only winning move was not to play.”
The video splashed images of the 1980s hit movie WarGames starring Matthew Broderick in which a DoD war simulations super-computer “learns” that global thermal nuclear war is “a game where the only winning move is not to play.” This was enhanced by images depicting the choices made during the game “Prisoner’s Dilemma” — a common experiment in game theory.
In the classic version of Prisoner’s Dilemma, betrayal trumps cooperation, as wiki states, “Because betrayal always rewards more than cooperation, all purely rational self-interested prisoners would betray the other, and so the only possible outcome for two purely rational prisoners is for them both to betray each other.”
Anonymous may be insinuating that Aaron was unwilling to cooperate with authorities in helping to catch and prosecute other hackers and open-internet activists that might not be so disinclined to break cyber, copyright and international laws to promote their cause or just for “lulz”.
Lulz is a term that evolved from the internet and texting slang “lol” , or laughing out loud. Lulz is similar to the German word schadenfreude, or taking joy from the suffering of others. This amoral, almost nihilistic attitude is prevalent in internet subculture, “Deep Web” or other websites such as 4chan. The idea is to not care about anything, or to never take things—especially anything in the mainstream—seriously. This does not represent the decline of civilization or anything so threatening, but rather is a subculture through which people, many of them young male teens, can commiserate with one another as a cathartic exercise. However, much of the content from the Deep Web is disturbing and not easy to metabolize. Videos such as Mexican drug cartel executions by chain saw or the aftermath of suicide in a bathtub by shotgun-blast-to-the-head have become internet memes in of themselves—anesthetizing teens suffering from depression showing them that their lives aren’t so bad after all—akin to cutting oneself just to feel the pain (see “self-harm”).
So, as a “prisoner”, as the supposed Anon script goes, Aaron decides to commit suicide rather than become a snitch. Consequently, this has triggered Anonymous’s wrath with the group essentially accusing the U.S. Department of Justice of murder. Anonymous says it has sensitive private data and documents that will cause great harm and embarrassment to the United States Department of Justice. They said they would release redacted versions to prove just how damaging the release would be.
The indiscriminate dissemination of private data and documents is a political and activist strategy made most popular by WikiLeaks—a group linked to Anonymous, although more through mutual support than actual coordinated ops.
In Parmy Olson’s expose “We Are Anonymous” she lays out the entire timeline of how Anonymous got started by opposing Scientology and how it later spawned offshoot groups such as LulzSec. The mythology of millions of Anons blasting Denial of Service (DoS) attacks to shut down PayPal was dispelled by Ms. Olson’s research. Interviews with former Anons that had been busted by the FBI confirmed that the meat and potatoes of most of the successful DoS attacks were caused by one guy with a Botnet—ostensibly, millions of computers infected with malware enabling the Botnet creator to wield them all, in congress, remotely. A massive, global chorus triggered by one conductor.
Aaron Swartz’s death is a tragedy; he was an amazingly accomplished and brilliant technology innovator. But he was also sensitive like many artistic geniuses. Whether the DoJ’s case against him or his sensitivity and depression were the chief cause driving him to self-harm we may never know. It is clear, however, that many more have now been pulled into this story. Threats by Anonymous and the FBI are bouncing around all over the place; it will be interesting to see how this turns out.
Earlier ops by LulzSec and Anonymous have been busted with the authorities breaking down the identity of one or more members. Through coercion and threats, the FBI, or other authorities, turn individuals against their partners busting cyber cartels one-by-one. This is a well-worn tactic in tracking down cyber criminals, or organized crime in general, however, many innocent people have been mistakenly persued causing great embarassment and damage to their lives.
Human society wavers between chaos and control, order and anarchy. Finding the right balance between individual free expression and the pleasing symmetry that comes from collective common-purpose is what social philosophy is all about. Whether attempts to control and crack down on the Wild West of the internet are about cultural progress, or just greed to secure market share, etc., etc., remains to be seen. Certainly when China or Iran shuts down the internet its not about cultural progress. Can cyber threats as expressed by the goverment be overblown just so they can exert another level of profitable control and market share? Probably in some cases.
In demanding an open internet people like Aaron Swartz and groups like WikiLeaks and Anonymous are on the front lines making history in defining the rules and mores in an undiscovered country. One thing’s for sure; we all have a front row seat to the development and evolution of one of the most pivotal progressions in human history.