The Machinery of Internet Censorship
The cyberwar has begun and business as usual just got uglier. The online community, like any new frontier, has its pioneers, its entrepreneurs, its communities and its outlaws. Businesses open shop for advertising, family and friends chat with each other through blog spots, forums and e-mail, gamers find their fellow addicts and information flows freely; or at least it had until recently.
In January of 2010, Australia made Internet history by introducing a censorship law, purportedly to protect the children from inappropriate language. The proposed system would operate by a mandatory monitoring and screening of all internet connections through ISPs in Australia, both public and private, and then routing blacklisted addresses through a secondary system. All routing from the blacklisted sites would be kept secret, and compiled using a public complaints mechanism, Government censors and URLs provided by international agencies.
While the decision didn’t gather any immediate endorsements, it did raise a great deal of debate as to what should be considered acceptable use of the Internet. Craig’s List, a popular site for advertising jobs, services, real estate, automobiles, and items was pressured into discontinuing an adults only portion of their listing when the opposition argued that the site was encouraging online prostitution.
Censorship didn’t remain long in the field as a tool for safe guarding material inappropriate for children. On December seventh, Julian Assange surrendered himself to authorities in London following sexual misconduct charges that allegedly took place between the dates of August 14th to August 18th of this year. The court has agreed to release him, after a second hearing, on £200,000 bail; over $350,000; for a double misdemeanor. Although his Wikileaks account has grown to £700,000 since October, his assets have remained frozen by the banks, with virtually no money for his accumulating legal defense.
Operation Intimidation and Brutality
The gravity of the charges do not warrant the excessively high bail, the legal fees and the security measures to insure his extradition into Sweden. Viewing the judicial decision as selective prosecution, global citizenry have voiced a resounding protest. Asked whether Assange had any cash at all, his solicitor Jennifer Robinson said, “no. We have a huge amount of supporters [willing to donate money] but have nowhere to pay it.”
Assange’s legal team now includes Robinson, the media expert Mark Stephens, and the human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, who successfully argued that Assange should be granted bail. A week ago their costs had already topped £60,000, sources suggest.
The real reason Assange has been seized by the judicial establishment is not because of failure to use a condom, but because certain powerful political figures, particularly those within the U.S. Government, want Wikileaks to stop publishing classified information. Their main concern is to punish Julian Assange for bringing to the public eye documents they’d rather leave secret. Sarah Palin’s reaction to this breach in freedom of press was, that the U.S. Government should “ hunt the Australian down with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders.” Assange has been purported to have said he would rather be extradited to Sweden or any other court at all rather than the black hole of the U.S. Government.
What, exactly, are the issues at stake? In May of 2010, Private First Class, Bradley Manning was arrested and charged with unauthorized use of classified information, after claiming in an Internet chat room that he was the one who leaked the now famous, “Collateral Murder” videotape of a helicopter air strike in Baghdad, July 12, 2007. Manning, who was an intelligence analyst, is reputed to have said that the tape first drew his attention, after viewing it as the attack had been made almost entirely on helpless civilians. He also claims that since that time, a video of the Granai airstrike and around 260,000 diplomatic cables were released to the whistleblower website Wikileaks.
Following Manning’s arrest, Julian Assange immediately set up a defense fund, telling his alleged informant not to worry as, “[US] public statements have all been reasonable. But some statements made in private are a bit more questionable,” Assange told the Guardian in Brussels. “Politically it would be a great error for them to act. I feel perfectly safe … but I have been advised by my lawyers not to travel to the US during this period.” Of this date, Manning continues to be in jail without bond, under what has been described as cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture. Interviews with several people directly familiar with the conditions of Manning’s detention, ultimately including a Quantico brig official (Lt. Brian Villiard) who confirmed much of what they conveyed, establishes that the accused leaker is subjected to detention conditions likely to create long-term psychological injuries.
From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement. For 23 out of 24 hours every day — for seven straight months and counting — he sits completely alone in his cell. Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he’s barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions. For reasons that appear completely punitive, he’s being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including even a pillow or sheets for his bed (he is not and never has been on suicide watch). For the one hour per day when he is freed from this isolation, he is barred from accessing any news or current events programs. Lt. Villiard protested that the conditions are not “like jail movies where someone gets thrown into the hole,” but confirmed that he is in solitary confinement, entirely alone in his cell except for the one hour per day he is taken out.
According to Jeff Paterson, who runs the Bradley Manning legal defense fund, “We were aware of those situations and we were hoping that they would improve without applying public pressure through the media.”
Paterson says that Manning is “very annoyed” at the conditions of his confinement, adding that he is primarily upset at his inability to exercise. “He sits in this small box, for the most part only to take a shower – he just sits and eats and four months have gone by.”
According to Paterson, Manning has been examined by Quantico’s mental health officials, who declared that he is not a suicide risk – yet he continues to be held in solitary confinement due to a suicide watch. His overall mental health evaluation, which was begun in September, is still ongoing and should be wrapped up in a few weeks, says Paterson. Manning’s attorney, David Coombs did not return calls for comment. A spokesperson for the Pentagon did not return calls for comment.
Critics have condemned Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, with not assisting Manning, but Paterson says $20,000 has been pledged from Wikileaks for his defense. However, he recently received a brief message from the Wau Holland Foundation in Germany, the main fundraising platform for WikiLeaks, stating that the foundation faces a possible audit by German authorities and that it cannot promise any funds at this time. As of last week, the defense fund had raised $95,000 from 1,350 people — Paterson said it is difficult to tell if any of those donations come from active members of the U.S. military.
Anonymously Fighting Back
Whistle blowing is not a crime, and has been historically the means by which the press has been able to give objective, truthful coverage. The Watergate scandal, which was covered by two young reporters working for the Washington Post; Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, led to the arrest and conviction of five top GOP security aids working for the office of Richard Nixon, on charges of wire tapping and burglarizing the Democratic headquarters. Life magazine effectively whistle blew on the war in Vietnam when it brought, in glossy photographic images, the faces of the victims. It stunned the world by publishing the murder of a student protester at Kent State University by National Guardsmen.
The compiled evidence however, suggests that the U.S. Government wants whistle-blowing to become a thing of the past. Joseph Miller, who ran for the Alaskan Senate this year, lost all sympathy with his possible supporters when he detained and handcuffed a member of the press at a town meeting. His contention that what he plans to do is private, should he takes public office, continues to be a bit puzzling to a populace that is used to the assumption that policy should be clearly stated by their representatives, and influenced by the choices of the constituents.
The repercussions of Assange’s arrest have reached far and wide, but mainly through the efforts of a very youthful company who only call themselves “anonymous”. Following the arrest of Julian Assange, the loosely knit group launched a series of cyber attacks on the credit card companies that had frozen the Wikileaks account, including Master Charge, Pal Pal and Visa. The group flooded the company with Denial of Service attacks, causing as much as thirteen hour delays in completing transactions.
Police recently arrested two teenagers purportedly involved in contributing to the malware attacks on these credit card companies. According to an article at the website, “Naked Security”, a nineteen year old has been arrested in relation to the pro-WikiLeaks distributed denial-of-service attacks seen earlier this week.
The arrest of the 19-year-old youth follows Friday’s attacks on websites belonging to Dutch Police and national prosecutor’s office, which were themselves widely seen as retaliation against the apprehension the day before of a 16-year-old Dutch boy alleged to have participated in “Anonymous” pro-WikiLeaks attacks against a number of websites, including MasterCard and PayPal.
Is DDoS Protection Right for You?
More alarming than the repercussions of the attacks, which the credit companies said had very little effect on their businesses, is the viewpoint taken concerning responsibility for personal computers. Security companies are advising owners of personal computers to secure their applications from accidentally sending out malware Denial of Service attacks. Acknowledging that any personal computer could contain the malicious software without the owner realizing it, they caution that ignorance might not be enough to safeguard against prosecution if it’s discovered your personal computer is part of a DDoS network.
According to Mary Landesman, at About.Com, there is a lot of collateral damage to be collected behind the fallout of the DDoS attacks. She claims the Manning documents contained details about personal lives that could then be aired over the Internet, and that the release of Julian Assange and his access to the Wikileaks foundation could take down a bank or two.
In presenting her appraisal, she states, “the flash mob style participants in the DDoS attacks are likely predominantly a bunch of underage teens driven by the sort of quick impulsive reactions common to that age. Call them hactivists or vandals if you will, but the unfortunate side effect of an always-on Internet connection is that there is little barrier to action. And with little barrier to action, there’s precious little time to think things through and reconsider one’s actions.”
In conclusion, she states, “indeed, you might even be collateral damage without your realization. DDoS attackers frequently employ botnets to control bot-infected PCs in order to launch attacks against others. Now’s a good time to run a full system scan with up-to-date antivirus, before the authorities come knocking at your door.”
In reply, poster Tony Cowen states, “I’ve worked in the private sector for over 20.yrs as a CompTIA Certified Instructor & I can tell you one thing for certain.. I sat in on this little freak-fest called “Operation Payback.” & there’s something just not right about it.
It is laudable & even somewhat suspicious to believe any of these hardened mission critical systems, designed to handle millions of requests & simultaneously protect the servers from the outside influences of the internet were ever in any real danger.
If I were the senior administrator for either Visa, Master Card or Paypal & suddenly heard that these systems were crippled and defenseless for hours against the antiquated exploits of a simple TCP race-condition.?
There would have an instant reaction, with all the fury of a madman on parade.. any one and every one standing withing 50 feet of those server farm doors would have been fired immediately and with out prejudice.”
In the meantime, BlockDoS net services is offering their protection to businesses for $299 a month.
“We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.”
Quote from an Anonymous website
A web search into the group that calls itself The Anon Legion and takes responsibility for the DDoS malware, reveals a network of young; some quite talented and creative people; whose main interests seem to have been in the type of pranks teenagers are prone to pull and a lot of sexually oriented humor. They first came to media attention after a few enterprising members launched a series of cyber attacks against the Church of Scientology, claiming the organization was trying to suppress freedom of speech.
They appear to have two main heroes; the very real Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, and the fictional DC comic book hero, “V for Vendetta”. Their avatar is the “V” mask, with the quote, “We are defenders of the internet. We are the keepers of truth. We are the army of one divided by zero. We are Anonymous. Join the Legion.”
As is the case in nearly all revolutions, it is the young people who have sounded the call to battle for freedom of press in the cyber war. While their actions may have been uncomfortable for their victims, they haven’t produced loss of limb or even serious cut-backs in the credit card or banking industry. What they have done, is bring attention to crucial issues that might otherwise have been swept under the rug or pushed quietly out the door. They’ve brought up questions on the legality of selectively prosecuting whistle blowers, the boundaries of what the public has the right to know, and that all essential freedom to express an opinion.
Most of all, they’ve exposed beyond a shadow of a doubt, how far political and corporate figures will go to silence their opposition. In the movie, “V”, the hero says, “a building is a symbol, as is the act of destroying it. Symbols are given power by people. A symbol, in and of itself is powerless, but with enough people behind it, blowing up a building can change the world.” The act of cyber attacking the leading credit card companies was a symbol, a symbol that can only be given power by the people. A symbol, in and of itself is powerless, but with enough people behind it, the messengers who instigated Denial of Service can change the world.