Stuck in a generation
where loyalty is just a tattoo,
love is just a quote and lying is the new truth.
We are located in the year 1605, while in England a plot was organized to kill King James I, and the Protestant aristocracy, with an attack directed towards the Houses of Parliament. The leaders of the Catholic group conspiring against the system were Robert Catesby and Guy Fawkes...
Unfortunately his plan was 'unmasked' and the conspirators, executed. Although the famous Gunpowder conspiracy failed, it became a great symbol of rebellion, and today, in the referent for a phenomenon that would shake cyberspace: Anonymous.
"Anonymous is like a child who goes to school and has great aspirations, but a very bad self-esteem, until one day he hits someone in the face and says: 'Oh my God, I am very strong!' " 1.
Internet is one of the maximum symbols of free expression since the invention of the printing press. Even much larger than any means of communication existing today, because in theory, it has not yet been controlled or manipulated. Fundamentally because it produced a colossal change in the balance of power (now it is purely asymmetric), thus moving from the world monopolized by shadows, to the digital opening that manifests under its 0's and 1's, those strange computerized wizards determined to act through codes and unusual languages.
There are many reasons that cause the union of hackers in groups, but the prevalent one is undoubtedly the political one: the path of Anonymous had been traced many years ago.
From this, we can emphasize a substantial difference between the same groups of hackers, existing over the years. A term arises derived from hacking but with strong social implications, that go beyond the simple exchange of information (or knowledge generation) for fun / curiosity. Far from the stereotype of introverted people, isolated and exclusively obsessed with programming and computer security, which were the majority of hackers, they begin to become aware of the "political" dimensions of the code they write, the programs they use, the power of communication and human interaction through networks, throwing themselves into the world to amplify their effects. Hacktivism is born, that hybrid between hacking and activism, an extremely controversial and delicate concept of mostly political intervention and tactics of digital subversion, whose recent origins go back to the reaction of some members like Cult of the Death Cow, L0pht, Phrackers, among others, against some authoritarian governments, in their fight against censorship and the rights of free expression.
In one way or another, hacking and networks have always been linked to certain political activities of uprising, starting from the old rivalry of the right and the left. Therefore, hacktivism could be traced back to the origins of the Internet itself. The ideals of universal access to computers, permanent information flow and right to privacy, are a constant of the hacker culture and of course, that information should always be free.
As an example of the above, in 1994 the panorama of the computer underground in Mexico experienced one of the most critical points of its history, concerning the beginnings of hacktivism and its impact on modern societies, when the “Zapatista” liberation army (advised by the BBS of Peace.Net and by The Electronic Disturbance Theater) used the internet to spread to the world the armed revolution and the social demands of the indigenous people of Chiapas.
"Usually", when we find ourselves under a "cyberwar" scheme, we categorize three primordial assets, schematized in layers: the physical layer (defined by hardware and networks), the logical layer (defined by the programs and protocols loaded in the hardware) and finally the most abstract layer of all, which is the layer of information. The Zapatistas, aware of their inability to win any battle in the physical and logical layers, decided to choose to intervene in the last of them (amplifying their message through the network) and use it as a political and social spearhead. That's how they decided to attack cyberspace. In an implausible way, the communiqués of the Indians of the “Lacandon Jungle” traversed the planet, traveling from inbox to inbox, through the primitive social networks of people who, captivated by the guerrilla attitude, forwarded the messages to family and friends. The result was that the eyes of the world settled on Chiapas, and acted as an infallible defense against any attempt of suppression from the Mexican government.
Similar actions were also coordinated thanks to several groups of hackers like the ones I already mentioned above.
"At this time we have access to all the classified databases of the United States government. We do not hack them. Access was granted to us, by the people who administer those systems. [...] People are leaking information to Anonymous, but they do not come to us with documents on a CD, but with the keys of the kingdom"2.
In December of 1998, a group of hackers called Legion of the Underground declared the "cyberwar" to Iraq and China, and prepared to attack them by opposing abuses in those nations, regarding free access to the Internet for their people.
A week later, a coalition of hackers that included the legendary Cult of the Dead Cow, L0pht, Chaos Computer Club and Phrack condemned the protest movement:
"We oppose any attempt to use the power of hacking to destroy infrastructure in some country, for whatever reason. One cannot legitimately want free information sharing, disabling networks.”
Legion of the Underground understood the message of their comrades and withdrew from the fight.
Years later, the self-styled hackers and hacktivists, as they are now Anonymous, use the techniques forbidden by the former "pioneers" as CdC to promote their campaigns of freedom, equality and human rights in general. According to CdC, this is not the way for true hacktivism and they demonstrated it by stopping their comrades of LoU, when the situation warranted it.
But even hacktivist legends are victims of contradiction.
"Things like DDoSing, defacements, data mining and so on are not compatible in liberal democracies. I do not agree with the tactics of Anonymous, although sometimes I can share their concerns"
said Oxbloof Ruffin member of CdC.
However, without wanting to take his statements out of context, he also says "If it's about saving a life, then I do not have a problem with a DoS". Once again, the judgment dilemma is presented: what type of dissertation should we do to ensure that we are saving a life? Being frank any campaign of Anonymous can perfectly take, as part of its flag that in fact it is saving lives, and then we fall into a plane, in which it is not possible to judge any of the operations carried out. Although on the other hand, Oxbloof Ruffin also says that it fully supports the overcrowding of Anonymous, in the use of social networks such as Twitter or YouTube in order to create a positive effect on the population, he says, that is the classic example of "hacktivism".
Gabriella Coleman, a social anthropologist at McGill University and expert on the hacker culture, points out, there are two strong characteristics - in addition to technical skill - that define hackers among them: free speech and the defense of online privacy.
The author of Coding freedom: the ethics and aesthetics of hacking, warns that groups like Anonymous or others less known as LulzSec, derive from an ideological inflexibility around these two issues, in addition to their perennial exercise of "infiltration to unmask".
In 2010, Twitter canceled the Anonymous account; and then in 2011, Facebook did the same with the Operation Payback profile related to them, against PayPal and some banking entities for not allowing donations to Wikileaks.
The anons, who had already readjusted themselves in their role as digital vigilantes, after their offensive against the Church of Scientology, interpreted this movements as a deliberate attack on their guarantees and liberties. From here, the police persecutions began, because Anonymous members were considered criminals for their actions of insubordination, or worse, as terrorists of the network. But a group without organization and without leaders is difficult to persecute and break. Being such a large and heterogeneous group of people who move by different impulses, there are always those who go free and can be really harmful, (as they qualify LulzSec), and there are also tensions between members who do not like the more serious mood the group has taken, (as we pointed out in the previous article) or others who joined him precisely for that reason. Although there have been countless arrests of alleged leaders, Anonymous activities occur almost daily without any way to stop them.
Potatos gonna potate, haters gonna hate
Understanding the universe of Anonymous is not simple, the phenomenon is the perfect reflection of the world in which we live; of the society that is totally anchored to the digital revolution.
This global, and universal, movement is also difficult to conceive because it was created in the network, with the inertia of the Internet. It is the product of a joke, of interaction, of the need to be noticed in a cynical, corrupt and unjust world. It has been woven in a gradual way, conversation after conversation, idea after idea, protest over protest. Anyone can be part of Anonymous, anyone can enter at any time and join the collective. They will enter a world in which people are coordinating on an operation, until they reach a spontaneous consensus indicating which will be the next target, and against whom we must launch the next attack.
But as we can assume, not all members of Anonymous are actually versed hackers. The truth is the vast majority are cyber-activists, which is not the same as hackers, and who participate, in street protests or in networks. Around 1,000 members, according to the expert Gabriella Coleman, are those who put their computers at the service of attacks on sites, which allow their computers to become zombies, belonging to a large hive and can run DDoS, (distributed attacks of denial of service).
The DDoS, as we have already mentioned, is the weapon that cyber activists use the most. They allow operations that achieve a considerable media impact and that affect the reputation of the target they are targeting. Thus many of the following and famous operations happened:
- Attacks against the Law Sinde (Spain), 2010
On December 21, 2010, the day on which the vote was taken, in the Congress of Deputies of the controversial law “Sinde”, that would give full powers to close websites without the need of having the authorization of a judge, there were massive attacks on the pages of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party, Congress and Ministry of Culture.
- Attack on federal HBGary (USA), 2011
On February 5 and 6, 2011 Aaron Barr, executive director of the computer security firm HBGary Federal, announced he had successfully infiltrated Anonymous, managing to unmask the real identities of the group's hierarchy. In retaliation for Aaron Barr's statements, Anonymous members hacked the HBGary Federal website and replaced the homepage with a message stating they should not "mess with" Anonymous. Also using social engineering, XSS attacks and others, Anonymous ended up acquiring full control of the internal servers, including the control of the company's email, which culminated in the online publication of 68,000 confidential e-mails, the deletion of files, destruction of 1TB of security copies and disqualification of the system.
Among the documents on display was one entitled "The Wikileaks Threat", developed by HBGary Federal along with two other data intelligence companies for the Bank of America. In the report, these companies created a list of important collaborators of Wikileaks, and developed a strategic plan of attack against the platform of Assange.
- Operation Tequila (Mexico), 2011
In Mexico, Anonymous had its first media impact with its armed arm of the Latin American region. Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui was off the air for two weeks, after being fired from “Noticias MVS”, allegedly after having asked: Does the president of Mexico have alcoholic problems or not? (Then the president was Felipe Calderón).
In its statement, at the beginning of the operation, Anonymous Latin America commented: "Alcohol is not the problem, censorship is."
The attack, named as "Operation Tequila", was coordinated through the Wordpress platform, where, as it could not be otherwise, was incited to make a Denial of Service attack against the MVS page; from February 9, 2011, multiple assaults were carried out against the site until it was taken offline.
- Operation Dark NET, 2012
The hacker collective released information of more than 1500 users, by derailing a huge network of pedophilia, intervening in a website containing child pornography. The place was called Lolita City. The operation began with a first track through the "Hidden Wiki on the Deep Internet". It took them to the Hard Candy site, a website where it was announced a collection of links to many other pedophile pages. Finally they found Lolita City, which apparently collected all the information from registered users in a Freedom Hosting site.
- Attacks against ISIS, "Total War" (global), 2015
One of the relatively recent and most talked-about operations has been against ISIS or the Islamic State. The first of these originated after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo. The attack was perpetrated in the form of a leak, making public the profiles of thousands of “tweeters” related to the terrorist group. After the attacks at the Bataclan Theater in 2015, the threat became more serious. Anonymous launched a canvassing campaign throughout the network, to destroy any type of social profile (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) linked to the Islamic State and disable any site on the Internet, which was collecting primarily economic resources, for the activities of the terrorist group.
The fifth power
In the era of hyperconnected society, "instant" massification is the key for achieving the desired impact in a message. As we briefly pointed out, one of the most famous operations illustrating the internet as a political path is the case of Julian Assange, WikiLeaks and the role that Anonymous occupied in responding to the US authorities when Assange was arrested by the FBI.
The internet is before and after Wikileaks. This site has been known worldwide for disclosing to the world "secret" information such as the so-called "Cablegate" detonating the anger of the US government, declassifying more than 250 thousand cables that although they were not stolen, caused to spread in numerous portals and the collaboration of groups, such as Anonymous was decisive in supporting legitimization and popularization in the public sphere by unilaterally stating that "Internet will never be censored".
What is the price of keeping secrets in a free society and what is the price of exposing them? Today Assange is being held at the Embassy of Ecuador in England to avoid his extradition, but his remarkable influence truly shows us the power that organizations born on the internet have, their global penetration and the ease in which they can hide through the shadows in the networks. However, from Wikileaks we observed whether the Internet will remain the largest space of freedom or will be subject to the censorship of a few; this is a struggle between "paladins of liberty" and those who seek to enslave the world.
Hacktivist activities today play a significant role in major conflicts as we have stressed, but as there are many ways to practice hacking, there are also many ways for hackers to access the political scene. From policy making to participation in pirated parties, from reinventing the law through free software, to carrying out risky acts of civil disobedience, geeks and hackers are not linked to a single political sentiment, such as liberalism, and certainly do not match in the way that social change should take place. What they all have in common is their political tools, and to a lesser degree their political sensitivities, arise from the concrete experiences of their trade, such as managing a server or editing videos. Often, these skills are channeled into specific activities in order to strengthen civil liberties, such as privacy.
Therefore, it is important that hacktivism continue to exist as a legitimate form of protest, so that civil society can draw attention to one topic or another. But people who resort this, must be aware they run a risk related to crossing the line of the legal stuff, and must assume the consequences. Many countries are now creating laws that criminalize different actions on the Internet, and this will possibly change both cybercrime and hacktivism. It is significant to distinguish that certain forms of action, for example bombings or "defaces" of websites, are not used only by hacktivists but by many other actors and for different reasons. In addition, hacktivists should not cooperate with criminal organizations or government administrations.
The existence of these groups like Anonymous, is the greatest evidence of freedom that exists in the network. To condemn by any means or to pursue its members, under any pretext, is certainly an attack on freedom. Currently, being free means having the ability to resist any pressure of censorship, come from whoever comes. This idea of freedom is the most powerful of the hacktivist collective; remember always that "ideas are bulletproof" as part of the hacking culture:
This is the Internet, it is ours, and we must defend it at all costs forever.
1, 2 From Doyon, Anonymous member.