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Anonymous: The Internet’s Bouncer

Some hate them.

Some love them.

Regardless of your position on them, they are here, and they are powerful.

Anonymous, a collection of hackers and activists, have essentially become the Internet’s bouncer. Some question their effectiveness, and belabor their techniques. Others swear by them, hailing them as 21st century activists. One thing is certain; they aren’t afraid to go after anyone — governments included — and with their recent efforts surrounding SOPA and Megaupload, their supporters are growing by the day.

The group began in 2003, born in one of the web’s most notorious imageboards, 4chan. At its outset, Anonymous — the name derived from the posting habits of imageboard users — was, by all intents and purposes, “In it for the lulz,” or laughs. The group gained notoriety in 2008, organizing protests against the Church of Scientology, and their perceived financial exploitation of their members. Dubbed “Project Chanology,” the protests were attended by over 7,000 people in 93 countries.

The first display of their transformation from troubled hackers in it for the fun to full-blown Internet activists — or “hacktivists” — did not arrive until 2009, and the Iranian elections. After vote rigging claims mounted, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner of the presidential elections, and thousands protested in Iran. The Iranian government attempted to censor news of the protests on the Internet, but Anonymous — along with The Pirate Bay — assisted Iranian hackers in launching a website — — to bypass the censors. Once again, the mainstream media paid attention. Their ranks grew, their role became clearer, and Anonymous went from perceived provocateurs, to one of the top proponents of an uncensored Internet.

Over the next year, Anonymous would combat Internet censorship in Australia, defacing the prime minister’s website, and taking down the Australian Parliament’s website for three days — up to this point, the biggest display of their talents. The Australian stated,

“The government confirmed afterwards that the Cyber Security Operations Centre knew the attack was coming but was unable to stop it.”

At this time — early 2010 — Anonymous had shown that they were serious about protecting Internet freedoms, but another shift in the ideology of the group was about to take place. Sony made one of the biggest mistakes in their company’s history — pursuing a lawsuit against noted hacker George Hotz (geohot) for jailbreaking, and subsequently  posting the root key of the PlayStation 3 online. Anonymous caught wind, and all hell broke loose.

The PlayStation Network, Sony’s online gaming network, was hacked between April 17th and April 19th, 2011 as part of Operation Payback. Sony shut down the network on April 20th. During that period, information was stolen from every one of the 77 million accounts on the network. The PlayStation Network was down for 23 days. The group did not claim responsibility for the outage, though they did state that they participated in attacks on the company.

Anonymous continued Operation Payback against Visa, MasterCard and PayPal, companies who blocked donations to WikiLeaks.

All of Anonymous’ activities up to this point had as many detractors as those who praised them, but this changed during the Arab Spring. Anonymous became a staunch ally of the Tunisian protesters, essentially becoming their cyber army, dismantling government sites, and helping activists access the Internet, which was censored by the government. The protests in Egypt got their fair share of assistance from Anonymous, as the group took down the National Democratic Party and President Mubarak’s websites permanently.

Now, barely a month into 2012, Anonymous has shown itself once again. Protesting the U.S government takedown of file-sharing website Megaupload, the group hit back with it’s strongest attacks yet. Anonymous shut down or slowed 10 websites, including the Department of Justice, Universal Music Group, the MPAA, the RIAA, and the U.S. Copyright office.

The structure of Anonymous is unlike any other organization in the world. With no leader or hierarchy, all decisions are made by the majority (This system is the same as the one used by Occupy Wall Street, who have ties to Anonymous members). The lack of a clear hierarchy can have both positive, and negative effects. The positive is that most of the members have — however skewed you may believe them to be — a set of moral principles that they abide by. Back in October, the collective took down over 40 child pornography sites, and released the names of 1,500 alleged users.In a post, Anonymous stated,

“If the FBI, Interpol, or other law enforcement agency should happen to come across this list, please use it to investigate and bring justice to the people listed here.”

The negative is the effect their actions can have on the families of their targets. The group routinely practices “doxing,” or the releasing of all attainable information of said target. This includes emails, social security numbers, financial statements, phone numbers, home addresses — and in the case of their latest target, former Senator, and current head of the MPAA Chris Dodd — his children’s names. Now I am in no way sympathetic to the man who — without even understanding it — is attempting to censor the Internet, and threatening members of Congress, but there are lines that should not be crossed.

For all its faults, Anonymous has emerged as the most powerful antagonists of governments and corporations perceived to be doing wrong around the world. Officials are afraid to go on the record against the group. Corporations have begun hiring security experts — something that should have been done years ago — to protect their assets. The problem is that there are members of Anonymous who have extensive history providing security services for companies. In other words, the current techniques that experts would use to block Anonymous are already known by the group, and may be useless until new methods are created.

Photo by Phillip Stearns

The truth is Anonymous has done serious good in terms of helping to secure Internet freedom around the world. From Iran, to Tunisia and Egypt, to the SOPA/PIPA battle, Anonymous has attempted — and at times succeeded — in combating any attempts at censoring the Internet. But why — and better yet how — did they become the leaders in the prevention of Internet censorship?

Why did it take two of the most ridiculous proposed laws in the history of the U.S. Government for the masses to wake up to the notion that there are people who would love to set us back ten years for financial gain? And If Anonymous wasn’t here helping bring to light situations were governments tried to censor their citizens over the last few years, would things be different now?

Their methods may be questioned, but their desires have stayed the same since they went down this “hacktivist” path — a free and open Internet. The Internet’s bouncer is here to stay.

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SOPA Outside The U.S.: What it Means for The Rest of The World

If you’ve been online today, you have no doubt come to discover that one of your favorite sites has gone offline – blacked out in protest of two controversial pieces of legislation known as SOPA and PIPA that are currently working their way through the United States Congress and Senate. SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, and PIPA, the Protect-IP Act, were proposed as a measure to thwart the growing online piracy problem. But make no mistake: while combatting piracy is a good thing, SOPA and PIPA are not. They are fundamentally flawed.

The premise is this: the American entertainment industry wants the ability to shut down foreign sites dedicated to piracy, those that supply illegal downloads of movies, TV shows, music, and the like. Sounds alright so far: piracy is illegal, and it should be stopped. Now here’s where the controversy comes in. To go about this, the United States Government will have to take measures within its own borders, as they can not act outside of their jurisdiction. To begin, PIPA would give the U.S. Government the ability to demand that ISP’s block infringing domain names (DNS blocking), so that American citizens would be unable to access sites promoting piracy, or those so much as accused of promoting piracy. Secondly, the government would take action against American-based sites that “promote” piracy in the form of links or other ties to these infringing sites. This is censorship. Blocking sites that the government and the media companies don’t like. It starts with piracy, but censorship is a slippery slope, and the language used in these pieces of legislation is vague, almost as if it were created to be abused. In addition, the government would be able to force U.S. based advertisers and payment providers to cancel the accounts of these foreign piracy websites.

To those of us who live outside of the United States, SOPA and PIPA may not seem like a threat. But what we need to realize is that SOPA and PIPA will affect us, and while this starts in the United States, it will spread.

This subtitle has been censored.
PIPA and SOPA will not stop piracy. There are ways around DNS blocking, and piracy will persist. In truth, the entertainment companies already have the power to fight piracy. They can get a video taken off of YouTube. They can sue companies using their intellectual property without permission. SOPA and PIPA were created to give the media companies the ability to target and take-down previously untouchable foreign piracy sites by blocking their domain and cutting off their revenue. But it includes loopholes that, when abused (consciously or not), would allow the government to effectively censor the internet. This effect would be far-reaching, and would have global ramifications.

Say goodbye to your favourite sites.
To an uninformed judge, social networks like YouTube, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and SoundCloud might seem like they support piracy due to the amount of copyrighted content that appears on their respective websites. And under SOPA, a website is responsible for any content its users upload, and the government could block any site that contains even one infringing link. Sites such as these would constantly have to worry about the content their users are uploading, posting, and sharing. This is a huge legal burden to carry, and social networks and other similar online sharing services would find it impossible to exist with laws like SOPA and PIPA in place. Those of us outside the U.S. would have to say goodbye to our favorite sites.

Attacking foreign competition.
SOPA and PIPA were designed to allow American media companies to attack foreign websites that “infringe copyright”. However, it is no stretch to imagine that American media companies will target international competition, abuse the limits of SOPA and PIPA by claiming copyright infringement, and get these sites blocked from the internet. With no American business coming in, and payments from America blocked, these foreign companies will suffer, having never violated any domestic or international law.

Monkey see, monkey do.
Don’t think this will stop in America; there are equally large and powerful entertainment companies around the globe. If the United States can pass internet censorship laws like SOPA and PIPA, intellectual property protection will become a major part of U.S. foreign policy, and you better believe other countries will follow suit. The internet will look different in every country, and free expression online will cease to exist. Think about how much closer together the world is now that we can all communicate online? Now imagine if that went away? There are government’s out there that will abuse this power far worse than the United States would.

In short, SOPA and PIPA will do a lot of damage to the internet, both in the United States and abroad. We need to stop this, and we can make a difference. Do your part and fight for a free and equal internet!

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SOPA: A Word of Warning to Congress

Article first published as SOPA: A Word of Warning to Congress on Technorati.

Congress, you are playing with fire.

You are trying to control something — that you don’t even understand — that should not be controlled by any government.

You are attempting to pass a bill that will accomplish something that only you have been able to do — unite Democrats and Republicans against your asinine behavior.

Not to mention you are overlooking what could be your biggest mistake in attempting to pass this law — forgetting about your ‘Anonymous’ friends, who, when I spoke to them were not very happy about your recent endeavours.

Any bill that is compared to censorship laws in China and Iran, should not even be considered.

I won’t knock the concept, it is correct, people should not pirate movies and music, but the way you are attempting to fix it, will cause far more damage than the made-up $100 billion in losses the economy takes from IP theft — which is impossible to calculate.

The very people (or funders in the case of SOPA creator Lamar Smith, who has been getting consistent donations from tv/film/music industry over the last ten years) you are trying to protect — companies like Sony and Universal — have been caught pirating movies.

And if you think this bill will stop The Pirate Bay, your sadly mistaken. Congress has this amazing ability to overestimate its power. This isn’t something that you can just pepper spray. Oops.

Go back, learn about the Internet and how it works, and do something that you don’t normally do — think with your head, not with your pocket, and create a bill that won’t make Occupy more than just a nuisance.

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SOPA: The Bill That May Start A Cyber War

Congress, your playing with fire. Your well-intentioned idea has been mismanaged, and turned into something that will permanently damage the country is. Congress has overlooked the ramifications of passing SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), an act that may cost them that $100 billion (a made up number, by the way) they are trying to recover for their constituents. I want to make this perfectly clear: If this bill passes, there will be a cyber war unlike any we may have had with China or Iran — this time, it will be from your own people.

SOPA is designed to stop piracy and copyright infringement on the Internet — but it goes about it in a disastrous way. Adam Dachis of Lifehacker described the affects of the bill perfectly:

“If Lifehacker happened to have an article or two that could be interpreted as piracy-friendly, our domain could be blocked so it’s unaccessible by visiting What the bill can’t do is block numeric IP addresses, so you could still access Lifehacker, or any other site that could be censored, if you knew that address. This is important because it means this bill can’t do much to stop downloaders of pirated content. If a domain name is blocked, everything will still work via the numeric IP address. Basically, the bill will be no good at stopping piracy—what it was apparently designed to do—but excellent at censoring any web site capable of providing its users with the means of promoting pirated content or allowing the process. This includes sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, and many more. If it’s possible to post pirated content on the site, or information that could further online piracy, a claim can be brought against it. This can be something as minor as you posting a copyrighted image to your Facebook page, or piracy-friendly information in the comments of a post such as this one. The vague, sweeping language in this bill is what makes it so troubling.

AOL, eBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Twitter, Yahoo and Zynga sent a letter to congress, stating,

“We support the bills’ stated goals — providing additional enforcement tools to combat foreign “rogue” websites that are dedicated to copyright infringement or counterfeiting.  Unfortunately, the bills as drafted would expose law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new uncertain liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that would require monitoring of web sites. We are concerned that these measures pose a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job-creation, as well as to our Nation’s cybersecurity.”

Alyson Shontell of Business Insider spoke to the power that would be given to the government under this bill:

“That means the Attorney General would have the power to cut off select websites from search engines like Google. It could also cut off advertisers and payment processors like Visa from the sites. The Attorney General could essentially kill all of a site’s traffic and revenue in a matter of days.

SOPA only allows targeted sites five days to submit an appeal. That doesn’t leave much time for them to defend themselves before losing their site and their revenue altogether.”

When your plan is to operate the Internet like China and Iran, it is not a well thought out idea.

The one segment of the Internet — the most powerful one — that has not been considered are hackers. Those of their ilk are watching the situation with trepidation. Groups like Anonymous haven’t bothered the U.S government in their quest for freedom, but this will drastically change if this bill is passed. What I hear from some talented ‘computer users’ is,

“If this passes, the gloves come off.”