[ISN] Hacktivists Target Trade Summit

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Sat Apr 21 2001 - 00:28:46 PDT

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    By Jeffrey Benner
    2:00 a.m. Apr. 20, 2001 PDT
    A coalition of cyber-protesters plan to flood 28 websites associated
    with this weekend's free trade negotiations at the Summit of the
    Americas with page requests and e-mail messages.
    If enough people participate, the action could amount to a
    denial-of-service attack.
    Led by a group called "electrohippies collective," the "hacktivist"
    actions will mirror the summit's schedule, beginning Friday evening
    and running through Sunday in Quebec City. Leaders from 34 nations are
    meeting there to discuss the establishment of a single free trade zone
    from Canada to Chile.
    The electrohippies' target list includes official summit websites,
    Canadian government sites, corporate sponsors of the meeting
    (including the Canadian divisions of Cisco and Sun Microsystems) and
    the sites of organizations involved in the massive security force
    surrounding the conference.
    The protesters are objecting to what they call the undemocratic way
    the free trade negotiations are being conducted. They feel
    corporations are allowed to participate in the talks, but not ordinary
    According to summit spokesman Oussamah Tamim, the meeting's organizers
    take the same view toward online protests as those on the street -- as
    long as it is peaceful and doesn't hinder access to the conference,
    there's no problem. But interfering with the conference is
    "We accept the expression of ideas," Tamim said. "We only object to
    violence. A violent cyber-attack is any attempt to block public access
    to the summit website."
    If the protest goes according to plan, systems administrators at the
    targeted sites will have their hands full this weekend.
    Organizers hope thousands of cyber-protesters will download a simple
    "virtual sit-in tool" from the electrohippies site onto their PC, then
    use it to flood target sites with repeated page requests.
    Using this distributed attack technique, the electrohippies crippled
    the World Trade Organization website during the Seattle free trade
    summit in 1999.
    The Royal Canadian Mounted Police -- whose website also is on the
    target list -- is in charge of security for the conference. According
    to a spokesman, the mounties aren't aware of any specific plans for
    cyber-protest. But they do have a special team of agents in charge of
    computer security assigned to the summit.
    According to the electrohippies' press release, the organizations on
    the target list have all been notified, and offered the opportunity to
    post a response to the action on the electrohippies website. No such
    responses have been posted thus far.
    Reached via e-mail, electrohippie spokesman Paul Mobbs wrote that the
    protest would have two components -- a cyber sit-in and a
    letter-writing campaign. He denied that it was intended to shut down
    the targeted sites, but referred back to a document on "client-side
    denial of service" in order to explain the tactics that would be used.
    "The sit-in is not designed to close servers," Mobbs wrote, "but to
    significantly increase the figures in their usage logs. We're then
    challenging the server operators to give a public statement on how big
    an increase there was in usage.
    "The second action is a 'letter-writing tool.' People can select
    arguments, which are then written up as a letter, and can then be
    e-mailed or snail mailed/faxed to the person concerned."
    The coalition objects to the exclusive atmosphere surrounding the
    negotiations to establish a 34-nation free trade zone from Canada to
    They point to the 10-foot fence that has been erected around downtown
    Quebec City to keep street protesters away from delegates, and to
    summit officials' refusal to make public the draft text of the
    proposed free trade agreement.
    "Let data-bodies join in non-violent direct action online in
    solidarity with the real bodies on the streets," reads a statement
    posted on www.hacktivist.com, a partner in the cyber-protest
    The electrohippies have taken pains to gain recognition as a
    legitimate political organization. Their protest "tool" even comes
    with an "ethical public license" -- user guidelines they hope will
    inure them from trouble with the law.
    The license attempts to restrict use of the tools for "legitimate"
    protests conducted openly, with targets given notice and explanation
    in advance, as the electrohippies have done for this particular
    In part, the license may be an attempt to avoid prosecution under
    recent changes made to the law in England, where the electrohippie
    coalition is primarily based. By issuing these guidelines, they hope
    to distance themselves from the more rogue, cracker elements.
    The group's attention to ethics has convinced some that they deserve
    recognition as political activists rather than vandals or, even worse,
    Dorothy E. Denning, a computer crime and security expert at Georgetown
    University, thought the group deserved to be regarded as a political,
    rather than a criminal, organization.
    "They operate openly and publicly," Denning said. "They also try to
    operate by a democratic principle, meaning lots of people have to
    protest to make it effective."
    She was impressed when the group cancelled a cyber-protest over
    genetic engineering that had failed to get majority support in an
    online vote.
    In an effort to disassociate themselves from the "server-side"
    denial-of-service attacks that took down Yahoo and eBay last year, the
    electrohippies call their technique a "client-side" denial-of-service
    The difference, according to an electrohippie essay called Occasional
    Paper No. 1, is that client-side actions require thousands of
    individuals (clients) using their PCs to participate in order to be
    effective, while it only takes one person to launch a server-side
    attack. This is the "democratic principle" that impresses Denning.
    Both types are "distributed" attacks, meaning they flood a target with
    page requests originating from a lot of different places at once. This
    makes the attack more difficult to repel, and the culprits tougher to
    But the server-side variety achieves distribution by planting
    "zombies" in unsuspecting computers that come to life when it's time
    to attack. In contrast, the electrohippies use real people pointing
    their home computers at the target on purpose.
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