On Sunday, I did a post about the WikiLeaks situation where I mentioned the possibility of the world’s first true “cyber-war” as one likely outcome, citing the denial service of attacks on the WikiLeaks site as the first salvo and mentioning the plans of the hactivist group, Anonymous , to retaliate.
That indeed came to pass on Tuesday when there were coordinated DDOS (distributed denial service attacks) against the web sites of Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, the Swedish law firm prosecuting WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange on rape charges, Sarah Palin’s web site (she called Assange’s actions “treasonous”, perhaps not realising treason only applies to citizens of a country acting against their own government) and others.
(What’s a DDOS? Well, if you happened to hear Visa’s site was down, surfed to Visa.com to see if this was true, found that it was and hit “reload” just to be sure – congrats, you’ve become part of the “distributed” part of that attack!)
Of the sites I listed, I think only PayPal didn’t have their site go down for at least a brief period of time (to be clear – or at least more clear than my local evening news last night – this was an attack on the credit card companies’ web servers (eg. their corporate home pages), not their processing servers (eg. where the real money magic happens.) With that said, Anonymous has claimed to have breeched these defenses too although obviously the credit card companies deny this.
Even if the processing servers weren’t reached, it will only take one IT employee at any of the listed companies (or elsewhere) to cause real damage. And since many people who work in IT/programming/networking share that same “hacker ethic” which is anti-corporation, anti-authority and pro-information sharing, this may be more likely to happen than not.
“Real” war scares me but honestly, this one scares me almost as much. Although there’s a lot less risk of loss of life in a cyber-war (at least so far – imagine if an airline declined to fly Assange somewhere and the hackers turned their attention that direction), even the fact that so much of our lives are virtual these days – from our shopping habits to our surfing to our social lives to our banking – the potential for escalation and damage should be obvious.
It will be interesting to see how this continues to develop.
Finally, on a slightly lighter note, from the war’s propaganda department, Amazon’s UK site started selling the Wikileaks cables as an e-book today – even though Amazon.com kicked WikiLeaks off their servers and even though the cables were released for free via the web and torrents. This was quickly revealed as a hoax from a reseller using Amazon but was pretty funny/embarrassing while it lasted.
Bonus link: Why is the WikiLeaks story important?
Bonus link #2: CablegateRoulette