Thursday, 9 December 2010

Anonymous and Wikileaks

James at The Campaign War Room has written a piece on Anonymous and its involvement with Wikileaks in the wake of the widespead campaign to cut the organisation off, primarily from its financing. So far PayPal, Mastercard and Visa have taken steps to prevent further payments to Wikileaks. It appears that these companies have been under pressure from the US Government and in the case of Mastercard and Visa may have acted to protect their own interests, as the memos have revealed the extensive lobbying which the US Govt has done on their behalf in Russia.

In response Anonymous have gone on the warpath in support of Assange, and have gotten a great deal of media coverage along the way. The fact that Anonymous are going after major banks, and large corporations seems to have caught the media's interest.

Interestingly in this case Anonymous attacks through DDoS attacks have been largely ineffective. A few bank websites were taken down, but PayPal and Amazon were not affected.

Anonymous has gone after some hard targets before and done relatively well, but this was a whole other scale and its been interesting to watch the reaction within the Anonymous community. Here's a quote from a poster which emerged a couple of days ago:
We have at best given them a black eye. The game has changed. When the game changes, so too much our strategies.
Instead its suggested that Anonymous members sit down with the cables as they become avaliable and start digging information out of them, focussing on whats relevant to their local area, and posting it through any avaliable means online.

The shift in strategic focus is pretty smart. Wikileaks is likely to remain headline news for quite some time to come, and by providing additional analysis will almost certainly yeild insights which would not otherwise reach the mainstream. This tactic was pretty successful when it came to Scientology, and exposed the inner workings of ACS Law.

In essence I believe the role of Anonymous will be relatively limited beyond providing a resiliance to the distribution of the memos in preperation for their final full release. I've just taken a look at a couple of websites which are distributing the encrypted files and there are thousands of people who are downloading, or have downloaded the memos. Anonymous is promoting this resiliance by highlighting the opportunity people have to download the material and distribute it to others.

Of all the analysis I've seen so far on the Anonymous attacks I've most enjoyed this piece (hat tip to Techdirt) which asks the question of whether these activities are really the modern high tech equivalent of a sit in. Evgeny Morozov has this to say:
Launching DDoS should not be treated as a crime by default; we have to think about the particular circumstances in which such attacks are launched and their targets. I like to think of DDoS as equivalents of sit-ins: both aim at briefly disrupting a service or an institution in order to make a point. As long as we don't criminalize all sit-ins, I don't think we should aim at criminalizing all DDoS.
Its a fair point, since the Anonymous attacks were against websites, not against the underlying infrastructure which allows card payments to be made, so really it wasnt going do much more than annoy a few people who wanted to access these sites. Ultimately thats the point of a sit-in, its to inconvenience people and create a small irritation for the organisation targetted. Considering that students across the nation have been running sit ins for weeks, and UKUncut have targetted TopShop and other companies for similar activities, should we consider webspace differently?

The future of protest will incorporate a digital component, thats simply the world we live in. However we've continuously seen the Government and policy wildly overreact to the digital world. People have been jailed for threatening to 'blow up' airports on twitter, so its hard to imagine how the police would deal with an entity like Anonymous. I can only imagine they'll claim it requires sweeping new powers, as these things always do.

Online protest is a component of modern protest, not a seperate entity. Over time the two movements will be drawn togeather more and more, with each section taking on its own unique roles. UKUncut could, for example, organise for its membership to download and use an equivalent program of Anonymous's Low Orbit Ion Cannon to take down the websites of Top Shop or Vodafone. In many ways I'm surprised they havent already, it'd be a lot more impactful on those companies to lose a days worth of revenue from their websites.

The online protest movement remains nascient, and its hard to tell what its future holds, however we can make some assumptions which seem inevitable. Sophistication will grow and the barriers to entry will become lower.

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