Everybody has heard of the recent news story regarding Julian Assange and Wikileaks. But what I found more interesting was the underground, decentralized network of hackers, “Anonymous,” that is fighting back against the perceived injustices done to Assange. Operation Payback targets major banks, credit card companies, and finance services that froze Assange’s accounts and denied him service. Among the targeted companies were Paypal, Amazon, Mastercard, and a Swiss Bank.
Anonymous delivers their blows through what is called a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack. The members of the group use thousands of computers (both willing and unwilling) to flood the company’s website with data requests until the server slows to a crawl or crashes. The group has been able to become so widespread due to the simplicity of their arsenal: a program called the “Low Orbit Ion Cannon” (LOIC) which people can download to turn their computer into another soldier in the group’s “Legion.”
The prospect of groups like this is both exhilarating and terrifying. On the one hand, I am all about non-violent protest and dissent. On the other, this group potentially very dangerous and unstable. It has no central leadership and therefore a very loose, unpredictable agenda. Since the LOIC software is so easy to get a hold of and use, anybody can join. Membership might grow extremely rapidly, attracting a more radical anarchist demographic bent on total corporate destruction and the downfall of society (something like Fight Club). Who knows?
On the other, other hand… As a scientist, I really want to develop a stronger computer science background and figure out how all this stuff works for myself!