The Wikileaks scandal is more than just a diplomatic scuffle; it’s a war for the future of the Internet
You’ll have been following the Wikileaks saga, of course, because it is novel and interesting. Maybe you like it because it looks like a live action retelling of Enemy Of The State, or because history seems to be in the making. It feels big, doesn’t it? It is, but it’s bigger than that, too: what we’re witnessing right now is the opening of hostilities in the first big infowar. The war for the Internet is very big indeed.
If you’re not a digital native, or if you’re some kind of hearty outdoors type, this may not seem important, but you’re dead wrong. We could be spectators for the start of the cyber Great War – and they’ve just knocked over Franz Ferdinand.
We’ve seen cyber skirmishes before: Russian hackers targeted and sank Georgia’s internet infrastructure during their brief conflict in 2008, while there’ve been hints of Chinese muscle flexing for some time – especially last month, when traffic through US government sites was rerouted through Chinese servers for 18 minutes in November.
The difference now is that this battle is extra-national; it isn’t one country against another, so much as an establishment of nations fighting a global insurgency – with the soul of the Internet as the spoils.
At the moment, the greatest invention in human history is broadly free. It allows for unprecedented communication, truly free assembly, and with these, an unparalleled forum for the exchange of ideas. It’s a seat for radicalism, and it has the potential to usher in dramatic reorganisation of established power structures.
Up until now, the apple cart hasn’t been upset enough to incline governments to make overt changes. Wikileaks has changed that, and provoked the US into action: now the powers that be can see what the Internet can do, they want it changed.
It’s Internet power that lets us watch this unfold minute-by-minute, as the web’s corporate support structure crumbles before our eyes. One by one, companies we take for granted bow to pressure and desert the insurgents. First Amazon’s hosting, then Pay Pal, EveryDNS and Mastercard and Visa – betrayals all, robbing Wikileaks of the oxygen of hosting and funding. This is the old order’s first salvo, an old-fashioned show of power, using old-world intimidation tactics to bring down tangible assets and demonstrate the fragility of the Internet we thought we could trust.
Make no mistake, if they win here, online life will change. Expect tighter government control, more regulations and sanitised information flow. It won’t end the web as a place of freedom – but it will raise the technological barriers to entry, necessitating secrecy software and technical savvy. People without the IT skills may never be able to stumble upon radical ideas or free speech.
This leads us to the insurgency. There are people fighting against the constriction of the net, a rebel alliance of hackers and activists, and it is they who are causing such a ruckus.
Now Wikileaks has put its head above the parapet, myriad spontaneous groups are emerging from the soupy corners of the Internet, refusing to take all this authoritarianism lying down. Many of these are simple anarchists, like the infamous group Anonymous – a collective in the loosest possible sense of troublemakers and technophiles. Angry, porn-obsessed adolescents they might be, but they’re angry, obsessed adolescents with significant technological firepower – and a grudge.
Operation Payback is in full swing, lashing out with Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks – which flood a website with fake hits in order to overwhelm its servers. Armed with a simple hack tool called the Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC), hackers have been attacking the websites of those companies who slighted Wikileaks and Assange with surprising success, knocking them offline for hours at a time.
The Swiss bank that deserted Assange was down for the whole day yesterday, while MasterCard – which, lest ye forget, still allows you to donate to subsidiaries of the KKK – has now lost control of its own homepage. If people can’t see www.mastercard.com, it’ll certainly cost them money; infowar is waged on the bottom line.
DDoS attacks, while difficult to trace, are illegal, and the LOIC currently has a Trojan in it.
Other groups are rallying around too: Pirate Parties and private individuals are hosting Wikileaks mirrors now that wikileaks.org has been removed from the DNS – the Internet’s address book. Allies worldwide are assembling on Twitter and Facebook, disseminating information, organising protest and downloading the all-important insurance file. Consider the Justice for Assange group which sprang from nowhere yesterday, and organised an entire protest through Twitter in time for his court appearance.
The war has escalated to the extent that anti-Wikileaks hackers are retaliating with DDoS attacks of their own, counter-attacking anonops – Anonymous’ own organisation hub. Last week, an apparently rightwing hacker calling himself ‘th3 j3st3r’ DDoS’ed Wikileaks itself, with limited success.
Like I say, it’s going nuts out there, and this is truly just the beginning. Remember, if this sounds trivial or nerdy to you – and well it may – it doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening or that it isn’t significant. While the only casualties right now may be websites and services, there will be bigger trophies to come in a war which is only just getting warmed up – and which will certainly shape the future of the world.
Picture credit: Getty ImagesTagged in: Americas, Julian Assange, technology, the internet, usa, Wikileaks
Recent Posts on The Foreign Desk
- Obama lectures Modi’s government on religious tolerance at the end of a hyperactive visit
- A shouting economic adviser, a Nobel Laureate and a rock star scientist on stage at the Jaipur lit fest
- Obama's India trip is significant but expect limited results
- India’s Seven Sisters – so near and yet so far
- Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalists undermine his reforms agenda
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter