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IP: Wired News - The Golden Age of Hacktivism

From: [email protected]
Subject: IP: Wired News - The Golden Age of Hacktivism
Date: Fri, 2 Oct 1998 21:56:06 EDT
To: [email protected]


                     The Golden Age of Hacktivism
                     by Niall McKay 

                     4:00 a.m.  22.Sep.98.PDT
                     On the eve of Sweden's general election,
                     Internet saboteurs targeted the Web site
                     of that country's right-wing Moderates
                     political party, defacing pages and
                     establishing links to the homepages of the
                     left-wing party and a pornography site. 

                     But the Scandanavian crack Saturday
                     was not the work of bored juveniles
                     armed with a Unix account, a slice of
                     easily compiled code, and a few hours to
                     kill. It advanced a specific political

                     "The future of activism is on the
                     Internet," said Stanton McCandlish,
                     program director of the Electronic Frontier
                     Foundation. "More and more, what is
                     considered an offline issue, such as
                     protesting the treatment of the
                     Zapatistas in Mexico, is being protested
                     on the Net." 

                     In the computer-security community, it's
                     called "hacktivism," a kind of electronic
                     civil disobedience in which activists take
                     direct action by breaking into or
                     protesting with government or corporate
                     computer systems. It's a kind of low-level
                     information warfare, and it's on the rise. 

                     Last week, for example, a group of
                     hackers called X-pilot rewrote the home
                     page of a Mexican government site to
                     protest what they said were instances of
                     government corruption and censorship.
                     The group, which did not reply to several
                     emails, made the claims to the Hacker
                     News Network. The hacktivists were
                     bringing an offline issue into the online
                     world, McClandish said. 

                     The phenomenon is becoming common
                     enough that next month, the longtime
                     computer-security group, the Cult of the
                     Dead Cow will launch the resource site
                     hacktivism.org. The site will host online
                     workshops, demonstrations, and software
                     tools for digital activists. 

                     "We want to provide resources to
                     empower people who want to take part in
                     activism on the Internet," said Oxblood
                     Ruffian, a former United Nations
                     consultant who belongs to the Cult of the
                     Dead Cow. 

                     Oxblood Ruffian's group is no newcomer
                     to hacktivism. They have been working
                     with the Hong Kong Blondes, a
                     near-mythical group of Chinese dissidents
                     that have been infiltrating police and
                     security networks in China in an effort to
                     forewarn political targets of imminent

                     In a recent Wired News article, a member
                     of the group said it would target the
                     networks and Web sites of US companies
                     doing business with China. 

                     Other recent hacktivist actions include a
                     wave of attacks in August that drew
                     attention to alleged human rights abuses
                     in Indonesia. In June, attacks on
                     computer systems in India's atomic
                     energy research lab protested that
                     country's nuclear bomb tests. 

                     More recently, on Mexican Independence
                     Day, a US-based group called Electronic
                     Disturbance Theater targeted the Web
                     site of Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo.
                     The action was intended to protest
                     Zedillo's alleged mistreatment of the
                     Zapatista rebels in Chiapas. Nearly 8,000
                     people participated in the digital sit-in,
                     which attempted to overwhelm the
                     Mexican president's Web servers. 

                     "What we are trying to do is to find a
                     place where the public can register their
                     dissatisfaction in cyberspace, so that
                     your everyday [mouse] clicker can
                     participate in a public protest," said EDT
                     co-founder Ricardo. 

                     The apparent increase in hacktivism may
                     be due in part to the growing importance
                     of the Internet as a means of
                     communication. As more people go online,
                     Web sites become high-profile targets. 

                     It also demonstrates that many
                     government sites are fairly easy to crack,
                     said one former member of Milw0rm, the
                     now defunct group that defaced the
                     Indian research lab's Web site. In an
                     interview in Internet Relay Chat, the
                     cracker rattled off a list of vulnerable US
                     government Web sites -- including one
                     hosting an electron particle accelerator
                     and another of a US politician -- and their
                     susceptibility to bugs. 

                     "They don't pay enough for computer
                     people," said the cracker, who goes by
                     the name t3k-9. "You get $50,000 for a
                     $150,000 job." 

                     Some security experts also believe that
                     there is a new generation of crackers
                     emerging. "The rise in political cracking in
                     the past couple of years is because we
                     now have the first generation of kids that
                     have grown up with the Net," John
                     Vranesevich, founder of the computer
                     security Web site AntiOnline. "The first
                     generation of the kids that grew up
                     hacking are now between 25 and 35 -
                     often the most politically active years in
                     peoples' lives." 

                     "When the Cult of the Dead Cow was
                     started in 1984, the average age [of our
                     members] was 14, and they spent their
                     time hacking soda machines," said
                     Oxblood Ruffian. "But the last couple of
                     years has marked a turning point for us.
                     Our members are older, politicized, and
                     extremely technically proficient." 

                     While hacktivists are lining up along one
                     border, police and law enforcement
                     officials are lining up along another. 

                     This year the FBI will establish a cyber
                     warfare center called the National
                     Infrastructure Protection Center. The
                     US$64 million organization will replace the
                     Computer Investigations and
                     Infrastructure Threat Assessment Center
                     and involve the intelligence community
                     and the military. 

                     Allan Paller, director of research for the
                     SANS Institute, said the FBI is staffing
                     the new facility with the government's
                     top security experts. "They are stealing
                     people from good places, including a
                     woman from the Department of Energy
                     who was particularly good," he said in a
                     recent interview. "They are taking brilliant

                     Paller also said that a grassroots effort is
                     under way in Washington to establish a
                     National Intrusion Center, modeled after
                     the Centers for Disease Control. 

                     "There is definitely an increased threat of
                     cyber terrorism," said Stephen Berry,
                     spokesman for the FBI press office in

                     As offline protests -- which are protected
                     in the United States by the constitution
                     -- enter the next digital age, the
                     question remains: How will the FBI draw
                     the distinction between relatively benign
                     online political protests and cyber

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