As the calendar year lumbers to an end, it is hard to deny that 2010 indeed may have been a benchmark year for information technology in many respects.
Of note is recent the fracas surrounding the use of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks as a method of protest by the self professed non-entity known as “Anonymous”.
Whether or not you agree with the motivations and actions undertaken by WikiLeaks and the unforeseen consequences thereof, the practice of wresting clandestine information away from the control of centralized powers and the dispersal of said information to the general public is a journalistic endeavor well rooted in the history of the Fourth Estate.
And whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is able to successfully argue this point in any future legal proceedings against him remains uncertain, but it is clear that the Anonymous DDoS participants will not have the luxury of employing this argument for their own defense.
DDoS is a Form of Censorship
The Anonymous DDoS attacks should be rightfully categorized as just another form of mass censorship driven by the tantrums of politically and philosophically infantile neophytes who lack any substantial moral convictions, and who are easily swayed by the pseudo-rage of a mob mentality.
The freedom to speak and act cannot be validly promoted by the actions of those who would restrict the rights of others to freely speak and act. DDoS attacks may be considered a form of protest, but they do not have the effect of promoting the principles freedom and accountability.
Somehow this is lost on the Anonymous movement, as their forums are populated with exaltations of the innate right to freedom of speech and the free flow of information while simultaneously promoting actions that seek to limit the very same.
A simple explanation of these freedoms is inarguably counter to the actions of Anonymous and the use of DDoS as a form of protest to promote freedom of information:
“Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak freely without censorship or limitation, or both. The synonymous term freedom of expression is sometimes used to indicate not only freedom of verbal speech but any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used.”
Civil Disobedience is Characterized by Accountability
Accountability both on the part of the enforcers of unjust laws and those who would fight to overturn those laws was central to the tenets of civil disobedience during the Civil Rights movement, and presents a glaring contradiction for the Anonymous movement.
Writing from a jail cell in Alabama in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made clear his disposition on accountability:
“In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”
Dr. King’s guiding principle dictates that one must put oneself at personal risk in order to further a cause through acts of civil disobedience. In contrast, Anonymous participants instead rely on technology to provide cover in an effort to avoid accountability for their actions.
Consider the following statement issued by an Anonymous proponent:
“Anonymous is a spontaneous collective of people who share the common goal of protecting the free flow of information on the Internet. Our ranks are filled with people representative of many parts of the world and all political orientations. We can be anyone, anywhere, anytime. If you are in a public place right now, take a look over your shoulder: everyone you see has all the requirements to be an Anon. But do not fret, for you too have all the requirements to stand with those who fight for free information and accountability.”
These statements and others from “non-members” of the “non-group” sound somewhat noble when put so simply, but they are really representative of a belief that incognito mob rule through intimidation is a valid methodology for catalyzing social change.
The mechanism of this sentiment is the DDoS attack, which essentially dictates that the many must comply with the will of the few by means of the denial of choices based on free will. This is the same mentality that historically led to other forms of mass censorship like book burnings.
Anonymous Movement is Devoid of Philosophical Conviction
The following statements were excerpted from an email Q & A with another supporter of the Anonymous DDoS antics who goes by the alias "Walter Kovax". They are quite typical of the ill-informed teenage angst that pervades the movement.
Though the sentiments expressed can be lauded for their impassioned sincerity, they demonstrate the lack of sophistication and complexity that a critical examination of the notions of freedom and accountability require in order for the Anonymous movement to garner any semblance of credability.
Q: Can you tell me what you know about the origins of the principles behind freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and civil disobedience as catalyst for change?
Without freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and civil disobedience this country would not be what it is today. The Revolution would not have happend, and we would probably still be under british control, maybe even nazi control because you never know what could change in history if one little thing didnt happen. (i could go on about nazi control and our country but ill leave it be)
Q: Why do you support such tactics as DDoS attacks?
I support the DDoS attacks because there is no other way of getting the point across. Well there are other means but they are not as effective. It is also an intimidation factor also i believe because some companies need there website to run properly. Take the video from ReallyRick on youtube, he posted a video about anonops and how it was attackin mastercard and visa while he was at the store, and he complained that if he hadnt been able to pay for his socks at walmart then his reputation around town would be compromised. Even though it wouldnt not have effected his ability to pay just the ability to go on the website and look at his account.
Q: Do you think that a DDoS attack is at all similar to civil disobedience actions like a sit-in?
I believe that DDoS attacks are a lot like civil disobedience, just more effective, because in this day in age people are always on their computers and not out in the world protesting. This is not the 60’s and my generation is to technologically blind to group together and fight for a cause because they are too busy watching youtube videos or playing their video games on their xbox or playstation 3. I admit im guilty of doing this also but lately i have gotten away from my xbox and spent more time on my laptop researching what is goin on in the world.
Q: How does preventing the free flow of information by way of DDoS attack encourage the free flow of information?
Im sorry to say but i dont believe free speech exists in this country full of censorship. On facebook if you get into an arguement and people are getting pissed off they will freeze your account from being able to post comments, even on your own posts. Youtube removes videos that are contradicting what the government tells us and has proof to back it up. Because over government is afraid of free speech, and our ability to speak out about what thy are doing and how wrong it is.
Q: Do you believe a minority faction has the right to assert their will and ideology over the majority?
As for a minority faction asserting its will and ideology on the majority. Its been happening for years, no matter what the people say to their senators and congressmen, when it comes down to it they do what they want. Most of them say are for something and then vote no on it, and vice versa. Yes they were voted into office but that doesnt mean they didnt lie their way in to the position jus to turn around and not do what they said. We also have the power to kick them out of office, but like i said earlier my generation is to consumed by what new game is coming out or what the next Iphone can do. They could care less about what goes in congress or what Nancy Pelosi is trying to add on to the latest bill.
Q: If the goal is freedom of speech and the free exchange of information and ideas for everyone, how does the trampling of one groups rights strengthen the rights of all?
It doesnt strengthen the rights. Nor weaken them. Its just retaliation for being take adantage of and screwed around by the major corporation and government who are workin together to strip the american people of their money rights and dignity. If u back an cat into a corner and it feels scarred what does it do? It attacks. Its natural instinct.
Q: What is your opinion of the anonymous nature of the DDoS participants?
I believe the anonymous nature of the DDoS attack is important because if people knew who was doing the attacking then people would gang up on them. People, as in a group of people and not individuals, scare very easily. Because if one person gets scared or starts to worry it spreads to the others. Take riots for example, they normally start out as peaceful protests, then one bad apple decides to throw something. So another person throws something, and so on. Then it escalates to a riot and police are called and then innocent people get hurt and beaten. I have seen it happen in many videos.
Q: If something is important enough to spur you to action, is it not important enough to put yourself on the line by refusing to be anonymous?
If something is important enough to spur me into action, and yet remain anonymous, it shows how well our rights for freedom of speech and freedom of expression have been dismantled over the years. I remain anonymous for the fact that i dont want to be harrassed by the people who think anonops are terrorists. The government is the terrorist, trying to oppress the people of this county into submission. Take the patriot act for example, if you know anything about it you will know that breaking any kind of law, weather it be speeding or not wearing your seat belt you are considered a terrorist. Even if u dont agree with what our government is doing you are considered a terrorist.
Without Anonymity the Movement Falters
Punctuating the fact that the bravado of the Anonymous participants is fueled more by cowardly incognito than by any real adherence to heartfelt principles comes in the timing of several events:
- The December 9th announcement that a Dutch teen had been arrested for participating in some of the Anonymous DDoS attacks using the LOIC tool
- The December 10th release of a report that illustrates how use of the widely distributed Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC) tool employed by Anonymous DDoS participants left users wholly un-anonymous to investigating authorities
- The shift by Anonymous “coordinators” away from the DDoS attacks in favor of “Operation:LeakSpin, Operation:LeakFlood, and Operation:PaperStorm beginning around December 10th (see timeline and analysis of attacks here)
Once the anonymous nature of joining in on the DDoS attacks came into question, the level of crowd-sourced participation evaporated.
This “anonymous coward” syndrome is familiar to anyone who has dealt with the ever present internet forum Troll - they like to talk tough when hiding behind an proxy profile and avatar, but quickly change their tune or disappear altogether once their true identity is exposed.
Word has it that the LOIC tool is being revamped by some Anonymous developers to provide anonymity for users, as well as creating a version for use on mobile devices.
One can assume that when the anonymity of the LOIC tool is assured, we will see a return of the cowardly minority en mass to fight with vigor for their “right to free speech” while they seek to deny the majority of us the right to make choices for ourselves.
Ends Do Not Justify Means
They must not make these script-kiddies read Machiavelli’s The Prince in school anymore, but therein lays an important set of lessons on the relationship between one’s ends and one’s means that desperately needs to be imparted on these techno-teenyboppers.
Those who support the actions of Anonymous and subscribe to their idioms should be wary, because the same twisted and self-serving logic they are using to purport the notion that DDoS is anything but censorship is the same logic that centralized powers will undoubtedly use when deciding that the internet needs to be tightly controlled.
Someday the adolescent hordes that comprise the majority of the Anonymous movement will understand that truth is of more importance than any abstract ideal.
Ideals demand enslavement to a constant that exists nowhere but in the mind of the idealist, whereas truth may be construed differently by different individuals, creating the basis for rational argument and mutual consensus, and thus allowing for individuals to act upon their own free will.
Free will is the foundation of all of our freedoms.
DDoS attacks as a form of protest have the validity of a maltov cocktail lobbed from riotous crowd, and demonstrate all the bravery of a clandestine mail bomber.
Though the tactics of the Anonymous movement are newsworthy, they in no way should be considered on par with true acts of civil disobedience. Advancing this comparison insults and degrades the accomplishments of authentic political and social luminaries who were willing to put everything on the line in the name of justice, including their own lives.
Even WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who’s cause the Anonymous minions profess to champion, is willing to face the consequences of his own actions in an effort to legitimize his convictions.
When the dust finally settles, and the history of 2010 is detailed with the singular clarity that only hindsight can provide, the notion that DDoS attacks are a form of protest worthy of equating to that of the sit-ins and boycotts of the 1960’s will prove to be romantically naïve at best.