Julian Assange. Possibly the most Googled two words in the last month or so. His story in itself is fascinating: a hacker turned programmer turned Internet activist, he’s been on the move for the last several years, bouncing between countries as he decides where to hunker down for the next installment of WikiLeaks. The Guy Fawkes of our age, he sets kegs of gunpowder around the Internet and lights the fuses as wake-up calls to governments around the world.
Some of the leaks have provided remarkably transparent views of otherwise classified material: from the release of the Scientology “secret bibles” to the Baghdad airstrike video, WikiLeaks has revealed what would normally be hidden to most Internet users.
However, his actions have consequences that reach much farther than the squabbles of world diplomacy. If such acts become the norm, how soon will it be until disgruntled employees constantly break non-disclosure agreements and anonymously leak company development plans onto the Internet to be freely disseminated among competitors?
Although it may not seem as such, conventional warfare, such as our current engagements in the Middle East, is quickly becoming a thing of the past. We’re in the midst of a war that involves not only guns and soldiers but also the minds of civilians. None of the traditional rules of warfare apply anymore: any civilian with an Internet connection can join in, from leaving comments on blog posts or news forums to participating in the distributed denial of service attacks along with the net vigilantes.
Thousands of Internet users have voluntarily downloaded a tool called the Low Orbit Ion Cannon, which allows the Anonymous “hive mind” to take control of their computers and use their Internet connection to flood targeted websites with bad requests. This overloads the target sites with information and causes the sites to crash. Websites such as Paypal, Mastercard, and Visa, which once processed online donations for WikiLeaks and have cancelled WikiLeaks accounts due to “violation of site policies”, have been brought down by “the hive mind” in targeted retribution attacks against these sites, affecting millions of dollars in transactions. The Swedish government site has been disrupted already; the UK, reportedly next in line, is already fortifying their site in preparation for another assault.
Consider this: it’s clear that the Internet is the next battlefield already, but how long will it be until restrictions are put in place by governments to “protect” its citizens? Freedom of speech can only go so far. If citizens are able to anonymously collect themselves into a massive force that is not regulated by any existing international laws, what is the next step? I’m not purposely painting a picture of some future apocalypse; that’s just how the world is progressing.
That Great Firewall of China doesn’t look like such a bad idea anymore. ▪