Is it cyber governance?
or DDoS attacks - flooding the websites of MasterCard and Visa and temporarily incapacitating them. Facebook and Twitter retaliated by closing Operation Payback user accounts, but not before hacktivists spread their cause across the web. The Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC), software enabling people to lend their computers for these attacks, has reportedly been downloaded more than 53,000 times, leaving corporations and governments scrambling ?to prepare in case their websites become the next targets. The pro-WikiLeaks protesters gathered under the umbrella name Anonymous, which Tunisian cyber-activist Slim Amamou calls, "a new spirituality." It's an organised, yet leaderless, disorganisation, a flash mob that fits the decentralised nature of the web. Gregg Housh, a Boston-based cyber-activist jailed for hacking as a teenager, who claims inside knowledge of Anonymous but no participation in the recent attacks, explained: "There's no membership, there's no strategising. It's however it seems to flow." Someone posts an idea online, interested people decide if it's "great," "bad," or "horrible" and respond. Amamou calls the system, "reverse control" or "the brush principle - where whoever takes a brush and starts painting picks the color ?of the paint."
While illegal, activists admit, their attacks differ from malicious criminal hacking as the deliberate strategy is to avoid collateral damage to the public. Amamou, who claims no personal involvement in such attacks, said the goal is to raise awareness of Internet censorship and protect free expression on the web. Operation Payback considered targeting company infrastructure, but instead chose corporate websites to attack the public images of companies without jeopardising services to consumers. Another distinction is the solicitation of mass volunteerism rather than the criminal seizure of involuntary "zombie" computers, or botnets, without the permission or knowledge of their owners.
In interviews several activists claimed Operation Payback protests highlight the duplicity of Western corporations that terminated services on political and not legal ground. The corporations argue that by publishing leaked US diplomatic cables, WikiLeaks violated the companies' terms of service prohibiting illegal behaviour. However, WikiLeaks has not been charged with a crime. The only person facing charges related to the cables is Army Private Bradley Manning. But his alleged theft of these documents is distinct from the right of a free press, including Internet media, to ?diffuse information to the public in a responsible manner.
Activists point out that corporations have not yet spoken out against news organisations that also published the cables, including The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel - though Lieberman has suggested The New York Times and other news organisations could be investigated for breaking US espionage laws. In the absence of any action against those organisations, the arbitrary targeting of WikiLeaks, activists say, amounts to corporations serving as judge, jury and executioner.