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Anonymous, Wikileaks & Par:anoIA, evolution of hacktivism

by Pierluigi Paganini on July 17th, 2012
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In the last months we have assisted of an intensification of the operations that we common locate under the hacktivism umbrella. Millions of people claim freedom of internet access and the respect of human rights. The right to Internet access, also known as the right to broadband, states that all individuals must be able to access the Internet in order to exercise and enjoy their rights to Freedom of expression and opinion and other fundamental human rights. In many countries such as France, Spain and Finland Internet access is already considered a final human right. Unfortunately that not true all over the world, in industrialized as in totalitarian regimes, with the unique differences that in the second categories the control and surveillance of internet causes the persecution of millions of dissidents every year. The world is rapidly changing thanks to technologies, and new media such as internet represents privileged platforms to develop social debate on every kind of topic, limiting the access to the network today means limit freedom of expression of the citizens of the world. Let’s me highlight some of the  “Recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur (2011)” that clarifies the role of internet in the today’s society and establishes a duty for all states to ensure free access to the network of its own citizens. The report establishes the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression:

  • 67. Unlike any other medium, the Internet enables individuals to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds instantaneously and inexpensively across national borders. By vastly expanding the capacity of individuals to enjoy their right to freedom of opinion and expression, which is an “enabler” of other human rights, the Internet boosts economic, social and political development, and contributes to the progress of humankind as a whole. In this regard, the Special Rapporteur encourages other Special Procedures mandate holders to engage on the issue of the Internet with respect to their particular mandates.
  • 78. While blocking and filtering measures deny users access to specific content on the Internet, States have also taken measures to cut off access to the Internet entirely. The Special Rapporteur considers cutting off users from Internet access, regardless of the justification provided, including on the grounds of violating intellectual property rights law, to be disproportionate and thus a violation of article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
  • 79. The Special Rapporteur calls upon all States to ensure that Internet access is maintained at all times, including during times of political unrest.
  • 85. Given that the Internet has become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress, ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all States. Each State should thus develop a concrete and effective policy, in consultation with individuals from all sections of society, including the private sector and relevant Government ministries, to make the Internet widely available, accessible and affordable to all segments of population.

Groups of hacktivists are  increasing the frequency of attacks against private companies and institutions guilty for choices and policies that are detrimental to the people of the net. The topics discussed are the most disparate, from opposition to regulations that attempt to regulate the network to shared bitter battle against pedophilia, all without neglecting social issues of current interest such as the defense of environment. Seeking to frame with the word “Anonymous” such a diverse ideologies is wrong, every day we are confronted with social issues often uncomfortable and in many cases in passively way. Controversial battles of the collective deserves credit for raising uncomfortable questions otherwise kept confined in the knowledge of a few, hacktivism is a source of serious concerns and considerable as a cyber threat but to these phenomena must also be recognized the social function of the debate.  Often operations are egregious, questionable actions, but still represent the expression of a thought shared by huge masses.

Is it right to associate indissolubly the term hacktivism to cyber attacks and systems hacking?

We’ve had several attacks of Anonymous group recently, first against the Japanese government’s policy and his willingness to stiffen penalties against the violation of copyright (#opjapan), then by association with Wikileaks was started disclosures of the famous Syria Files, unpleasant truths that bind to Western companies to bloodthirsty regimes. But as mentioned, under the name Anonymous are also recorded other operations against organizations of pedophiles (#OpPedoChat) and against companies responsible of environmental damage such as Russian oil firms Gazprom and Rosneft accused of melting the Arctic ice caps.

The preferred attack techniques adopted is the hack instead the classic DDoS attack with publication of email and other compromising documents, we must consider this approach that appears like the will of the collective to show to the world the dirty affairs instead to attack destroying something.

The difference is thin but meaningful, Anonymous seems to declare

“if you have nothing to hide, you haven’t to fear Anonymous”.

While the policy pursued by Anonymous maybe shareable we must consider the damage that such operations may cause:

  • to the investigations of law enforcement who risk seeing hazy months or years of stalking.
  • to ordinary people doing their work on behalf of multinationals are exposed to risks and retaliation. Take the case of Finmeccanica and Syria Files, some of the people involved in the exchanges of emails simply did the work that was asked them.Today some of these people have received threats by mail, and this is unfair and prejudicial, goes against the ideals of the group.

Hacktivism is a struggle for justice, fight the “reasons of state” who have planted more death and destruction of weapons, a little noticed work in my opinion could affect the future of movements that are fighting for freedom of expression and the right to Internet.

On the collaboration with Wikeleaks

Surely working with Wikileaks is a time of growth for both organizations, I think we can expect a different “modus operandi” in the coming months, at least for the operations carried out by affiliates are very close to the Anonymous collective. The change lies in the mode of attack, probably I’m wrong, but the attacks have increasingly connotation of whistleblowers, events designed to stimulate greater public involvement than underperforming DDoS. The use of DDoS attacks may be limited situations where is meant to stop a service that is deemed harmful, such as diffusion of child porno material, or in situations when the hacking fails.

The influence of Wikileaks has produced its effect , Anonymous collective has launched in March its WikiLeaks like site called Par:AnoIA (Potentially Alarming Research: Anonymous Intelligence Agency).  The site is promoted as a centralized storage for leaked documents to propose to the public.

“The reason no one cares about these leaks, as a general rule of thumb, is that they can’t do anything with [them],” said a Paranoia anon volunteering on document processing for the project in an online chat with Wired. “Basically, [we're] making it accessible to anyone that wants to do something with it, in a proper usable format.”

Of course as in every marriage there are threads, the promoting of a similar platform has for example annoyed Wikileaks exponents, mainly because they could be controlled by government and intelligence agencies, WikiLeaks in fact accused one of the main Anonymous Twitter accounts of advertising proxies running at the direction of law enforcement.

On ambitious objective is the involvement of the masses in the analysis of leaked data and not only in attacks

This aspect represents the real innovation, the collective desire to involve people in the collection and analysis of the sensible documents creating an open intelligence platform based on the contribution of common people, a sort of  popular consciousness expressing his opinion openly and anonymously about news events.

Anonymous has already tried to setup a similar model of collaboration in the past promoting the #OperationLeakspin, but the experiment hasn’t had success because the contributions came mainly from elements belonging to news agencies and security analysts. This time the collective desires major participation of common people counting on the great popularity of the group and better technological instruments for document sharing in anonymity.

Imagine the media coverage of this initiative, millions of people could process GBs of confidential documents stolen during an attack such as the hack of HB Gary Federal, thus multiplying the channels of dissemination of the news and making impossible the tracing of primary source, is just scary!

I conclude the article by inviting everyone to analyze the phenomenon of hacktivism in different perspectives and especially considering it as a model evolving. The error that security experts make most frequently is that they concern mainly the mechanism of cause / effect of each attack, completely ignoring the reasons behind it and the related media impact.

The collateral damage of an attack can be more serious of the attack itself, the hype of an initiative could have a major effect of the result of a hack. The collective knows this, he first understood the need to involve the masses and show them the themes that are too often deliberately covered up.

Movements such as Anonymous, grow, change and who is still wrong to expect the usual DDoS, the future of hacktivism is elsewhere. In many countries collective promoters of free movement of information are being organized in the form of a political party, the hacktivist is not just a hacker is shifting closer to the masses under other garments.

We are in a period of great changes and groups as Anonymous also will evolve.

Pierluigi Paganini