Just read a piece by Joshua Philipps in The Epoch Times regarding OpIran and the recent leak of 10,365 emails from the Iranian government, courtesy of Internet superheroes Anonymous. According to Anonymous, the emails were obtained after accessing the Iranian Passport and Visa Office email center. Most of the emails concern visa applications “for an oil meeting…many from China” (Anonymous?) and of the government alerting individuals of their visa status. The government has been trying to cover up the incident, but the file leak was aimed more to “damage the image of Iran in ‘both cyber space and the real world'” (Philipps).
Operation “OpIran” has been ongoing since the 2009 elections as retaliation against the Iranian government. Cyberattacks have consisted mostly of DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks, Anonymous’s usual calling card. According to Philipps’s article, hacktivism and cyberattacks have compelled the release of an international cyberspace strategy by the U.S. government, treating hacking as an act of war: “It states that countries ‘have an inherent right to self-defense that may be triggered by certain aggressive acts in cyberspace…when warranted, the United States will respond to hostile acts in cyberspace as we would to any other threat to our country.'” NATO even refers to Anonymous directly, stating: “The longer these attacks persist the more likely countermeasures will be developed, implemented, the groups will be infiltrated and perpetrators persecuted” (qtd. in Philipps).
Anonymous, and other hacktivist groups, have likened DDoS attacks to peaceful protest, and I’m inclined to agree there. As Anonymous’s open letter states, “As traditional means of protest…have slowly turned into nothing but an empty, ritualized gesture of discontent over the course of the last century, people have been anxiously searching for new ways to pressure politicians and give voice to public demands…Anonymous has, for now, found this new way of voicing civil protest in the form of the DDoS” (qtd. in Philipps). In some ways, they seem to be doing the same work for information society that the labor force did for industrial society. (You can read Philipp’s article here.)
Where it seems to get sticky is around invasive hacking, like email leaks, such as this one, or page modifications, as in LulzSec’s recent hacking of PBS, during which they posted a fake article that declared Tupac and Biggie Smalls alive and well. Once privacy/security have been breached, the Internet becomes RLY SRS BUSINESS.
This is not the time or place for a LulzSec-specific post (though one is forthcoming), but I think it’s important to note that, at the very least, recent attacks perpetrated by hacktivist groups directly correspond to issues of censorship or oppression, whether that’s Sony suing hackers over jailbroken PS3s, PBS’s biased portrayal/misrepresentation of Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks, or the Iranian government’s violent crackdown.
Although certain groups may depict it, tongue-in-cheek, as a response based on simply being unimpressed by or opposed to something, there’s more to it than just that. As “traditional means of protest” become more and more like idle complaints bound to be ignored, hacktivist efforts have shifted a lot of media attention to companies and political issues that otherwise might have been ignored.
It means something, after all, that Anonymous has targeted Iran, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Tunisia, and Yemen over media repression, oppressive policies, and WikiLeaks censorship. It has already demonstrated itself to be motivated by an ideology that isn’t going to be dismantled by a few arrests. Governments may have profoundly misunderstood the psychology by threatening hacktivists with persecution.
After all, following the U.K. arrests of 5 members of Anonymous, Anonymous issued an open letter stating: “You can easily arrest individuals, but you cannot arrest an ideology. We are united by a common objective and we can and WILL cross any borders to achieve that.”
This work by V. Manivannan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.