Thursday, December 9, 2010

Is the Wikileaks 'cyberwar' actually terrorism?

I've been deeply skeptical of Republican politicians who label Julian Assange and Wikileaks as "terrorists" deserving of a good Hellfire missile or two. What happened on Wednesday, though, muddies the waters for me a bit:

Within 12 hours of a British judge’s decision on Tuesday to deny Mr. Assange bail in a Swedish extradition case, attacks on the Web sites of WikiLeaks’s “enemies,” as defined by the organization’s impassioned supporters around the world, caused several corporate Web sites to become inaccessible or slow down markedly.

Targets of the attacks, in which activists overwhelmed the sites with traffic, included the Web site of MasterCard, which had stopped processing donations for WikiLeaks;, which revoked the use of its computer servers; and PayPal, which stopped accepting donations for Mr. Assange’s group. was also affected by the attacks, as were the Web sites of the Swedish prosecutor’s office and the lawyer representing the two women whose allegations of sexual misconduct are the basis of Sweden’s extradition bid.

The New York Times doesn't mention this, but Sarah Palin was also a target of the hackers. (Though she was typically witless in her response.)

Now, as a matter of course, I'm pretty sympathetic to Gizmodo's take on the whole Wikileaks affair. "Wikileaks is a flawed endeavor represented publicly by a smug egotist. But it deserves the respect and support of anyone who prioritizes the privacy of individuals over that of governments." And I think people like Palin and Mitch McConnell who throw around the word "terrorist" too freely are a menace to free society.

The hackers acting in support of Wikileaks, though, aren't freeing information and exposing the inner workings of government. They're disrupting lives. Lots of regular people use Amazon and Visa and PayPal to conduct their daily business. And they are, to some extent, "collateral damage" in Wednesday's attacks.

Now, that damage right now is that some people are pretty inconvenienced. Nobody has died or even had to declare bankruptcy based on the hackers' actions. I don't want to make too big a deal about it. But the willingness of Wikileaks supporters to disrupt the lives and businesses of bystanders is troubling to me. And, possibly, a portent of bad days to come.

1 comment:

KhabaLox said...

Is the Wikileaks 'cyberwar' actually terrorism? Of course not! It doesn't even begin to approach anything resembling a reasonable definition of the word, and it's very irresponsible to label it as such. (I'm looking at you, certain Republican politicians.) And I'm concerned when intelligent, informed liberals like Joel see the actions of Anonymous as "muddying the waters."

What is happening now is mostly (all?) simple DDOS attacks by a bunch of 4chan /b/tards. I've heard it argued that such a tactic is the 21st century equivalent of a sit-in, and I think the analogy does have some merit. All they are doing is temporarily denying access to a (virtual) location by occupying its access points (i.e. its bandwidth and/or SYN/ACK queue). The difference is one of scale and of repercussions for the activists/attackers.

I personally don't think it's a great strategy, as it is going to cause more harm to Assange and Wikileaks than it is to Visa, MC or Paypal. I can see a lot of people blaming this activity on Assange and Wikileaks, but it's clear that they do not have any role in it.

But it's NOT terrorism. Even entertaining that idea is dangerous and points us toward a world in which anyone who upsets the status quo can be tarred with the same brush as mass murderers.