Anonymous Acts Out Over ACTA
Anonymous has taken advantage of the growing furor over ACTA -- an international treaty meant to stop online piracy -- by attacking several U.S. government websites, including the FTC. What is puzzling is that the FTC is not involved with ACTA at all. Trade agreements are handled by other agencies, including the Commerce Department and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
02/18/12 4:00 AM PT
The hacker group Anonymous has struck again -- this time taking down the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's consumer protection business center website as well as one touting National Consumer Protection Week.
In their place was a German language video mocking ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
The FTC promptly removed the video, which has been described as violent and bloody: A man in a ski mask guns down people for downloading copyrighted music. In a profanity-ridden statement, Anonymous threatened to "rain torrential hellfire down on all enemies of free speech, privacy and internet freedom" if ACTA is approved.
Hating on ACTA
ACTA, a global agreement targeted at curbing online piracy, has plenty of opponents who believe it will restrict freedom to download movies and music from the Internet and possibly lead to surveillance. That some government officials have signed the agreement in secret -- or attempted to -- is not sitting well with the public. As protests over the trade agreement grow, a number of countries in Europe are refusing to sign or ratify it.
Such rejection is nothing, though, compared to the language that Anonymous reportedly used in its statement accompanying the video:
"Even more bothersome than your complete lack of competence in maintaining your own f--- websites and serving the citizens you are supposed to be protecting, is the US federal government's support of ACTA. You really want to empower copyright holders to demand that users who violate IP rights (with no legal process) have their Internet connections terminated? You really want to allow a country with an oppressive Internet censorship regime to demand under the treaty that an ISP in another country remove site content?"
A Step Beyond
Anonymous managed to crash other government websites -- most notably that of the CIA and the Justice Department. However, the group did not replace content on those sites as it did on the FTC's.
What is puzzling is that the FTC is not involved with ACTA at all. Trade agreements are handled by other agencies, including the Commerce Department and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
Much about Anonymous, however, is puzzling, said Maurice Ross, a partner with Barton.
"It is hard to characterize them from an ideological standpoint," he told TechNewsWorld. "It seems to me that they view themselves as global crusaders for First Amendment-type issues. The problem is, even for people who share those values, the tactics that Anonymous uses are very troubling."
Its goals seem to be focused on equality, Robert Siciliano, online security evangelist, told TechNewsWorld.
"Anonymous is a movement upset with the 1 percent and what it perceives are the 1 percent's underlying motivations," he said.
Still, for a loosely organized group with airy-fairy goals, Anonymous has caused some significant financial damage, Siciliano said. "There are dollars associated with each breach that has surely exceeded millions in losses. Also, individuals whose data was exposed have suffered losses of reputation in numerous ways based on the information exposed."
Anonymous refers to the latter as "the truth," Siciliano added.
Taking Down the Internet
The group is also threatening to bring down the Internet -- a claim that Siciliano finds laughable despite Anonymous' technical feats to date.
"The fact Anonymous was kind enough to give notice means they have no intention or may lack the ability to do so. There's too much redundancy in the system," he said.
Making the threat, though, "is a great PR move," Siciliano added.
"The Internet is nearly impossible to black out completely," Tim Keanini, CTO for nCircle, told TechNewsWorld.
More to the point, why would the hackers want to bring down the Internet in the first place?
"The Internet is Anonymous' primary means of communication and their targets depend on a working Internet," Keanini pointed out. "If, hypothetically, Anonymous was able to create an Internet blackout for any substantial period of time, it would effectively put them out of business."
Website Operating Costs on the Rise
Anonymous can't bring down the Internet, Ross acknowledged, but it surely can bring down sites that it targets -- especially poorly secured sites run by smaller companies or nonprofits.
"Most companies have not invested in the security that is required to combat this type of assault," he said. "And for those that have, it is driving up companies' costs of operating their websites."