[ISN] The Golden Age of Hacktivism

From: mea culpa (jerichot_private)
Date: Tue Oct 27 1998 - 21:46:31 PST

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    The Golden Age of Hacktivism
    by Niall McKay
    4:00 a.m.  22.Sep.98.PDT
    On the eve of Sweden's general election, Internet saboteurs targeted the
    Web site of that country's right-wing Moderates political party, defacing
    pages and establishing links to the homepages of the left-wing party and a
    pornography site. 
    But the Scandanavian crack Saturday was not the work of bored juveniles
    armed with a Unix account, a slice of easily compiled code, and a few
    hours to kill. It advanced a specific political agenda. 
    "The future of activism is on the Internet," said Stanton McCandlish,
    program director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "More and more,
    what is considered an offline issue, such as protesting the treatment of
    the Zapatistas in Mexico, is being protested on the Net." 
    In the computer-security community, it's called "hacktivism," a kind of
    electronic civil disobedience in which activists take direct action by
    breaking into or protesting with government or corporate computer systems. 
    It's a kind of low-level information warfare, and it's on the rise. 
    Last week, for example, a group of hackers called X-pilot rewrote the home
    page of a Mexican government site to protest what they said were instances
    of government corruption and censorship. The group, which did not reply to
    several emails, made the claims to the Hacker News Network. The
    hacktivists were bringing an offline issue into the online world,
    McClandish said. 
    The phenomenon is becoming common enough that next month, the longtime
    computer-security group, the Cult of the Dead Cow will launch the resource
    site hacktivism.org. The site will host online workshops, demonstrations,
    and software tools for digital activists. 
    "We want to provide resources to empower people who want to take part in
    activism on the Internet," said Oxblood Ruffian, a former United Nations
    consultant who belongs to the Cult of the Dead Cow. 
    Oxblood Ruffian's group is no newcomer to hacktivism. They have been
    working with the Hong Kong Blondes, a near-mythical group of Chinese
    dissidents that have been infiltrating police and security networks in
    China in an effort to forewarn political targets of imminent arrests. 
    In a recent Wired News article, a member of the group said it would target
    the networks and Web sites of US companies doing business with China. 
    Other recent hacktivist actions include a wave of attacks in August that
    drew attention to alleged human rights abuses in Indonesia. In June,
    attacks on computer systems in India's atomic energy research lab
    protested that country's nuclear bomb tests. 
    More recently, on Mexican Independence Day, a US-based group called
    Electronic Disturbance Theater targeted the Web site of Mexican President
    Ernesto Zedillo. The action was intended to protest Zedillo's alleged
    mistreatment of the Zapatista rebels in Chiapas. Nearly 8,000 people
    participated in the digital sit-in, which attempted to overwhelm the
    Mexican president's Web servers. 
    "What we are trying to do is to find a place where the public can register
    their dissatisfaction in cyberspace, so that your everyday [mouse] clicker
    can participate in a public protest," said EDT co-founder Ricardo. 
    The apparent increase in hacktivism may be due in part to the growing
    importance of the Internet as a means of communication. As more people go
    online, Web sites become high-profile targets. 
    It also demonstrates that many government sites are fairly easy to crack,
    said one former member of Milw0rm, the now defunct group that defaced the
    Indian research lab's Web site. In an interview in Internet Relay Chat,
    the cracker rattled off a list of vulnerable US government Web sites --
    including one hosting an electron particle accelerator and another of a US
    politician -- and their susceptibility to bugs. 
    "They don't pay enough for computer people," said the cracker, who goes by
    the name t3k-9. "You get $50,000 for a $150,000 job." 
    Some security experts also believe that there is a new generation of
    crackers emerging. "The rise in political cracking in the past couple of
    years is because we now have the first generation of kids that have grown
    up with the Net," John Vranesevich, founder of the computer security Web
    site AntiOnline. "The first generation of the kids that grew up hacking
    are now between 25 and 35 - often the most politically active years in
    peoples' lives." 
    "When the Cult of the Dead Cow was started in 1984, the average age [of
    our members] was 14, and they spent their time hacking soda machines,"
    said Oxblood Ruffian. "But the last couple of years has marked a turning
    point for us. Our members are older, politicized, and extremely
    technically proficient." 
    While hacktivists are lining up along one border, police and law
    enforcement officials are lining up along another. 
    This year the FBI will establish a cyber warfare center called the
    National Infrastructure Protection Center. The US$64 million organization
    will replace the Computer Investigations and Infrastructure Threat
    Assessment Center and involve the intelligence community and the military. 
    Allan Paller, director of research for the SANS Institute, said the FBI is
    staffing the new facility with the government's top security experts.
    "They are stealing people from good places, including a woman from the
    Department of Energy who was particularly good," he said in a recent
    interview. "They are taking brilliant people." 
    Paller also said that a grassroots effort is under way in Washington to
    establish a National Intrusion Center, modeled after the Centers for
    Disease Control. 
    "There is definitely an increased threat of cyber terrorism," said Stephen
    Berry, spokesman for the FBI press office in Washington. 
    As offline protests -- which are protected in the United States by the
    constitution -- enter the next digital age, the question remains: How will
    the FBI draw the distinction between relatively benign online political
    protests and cyber terrorism? 
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