From hashmobs to DDOSmobs

I have already blogged about the democratization of cyber-attacks and how it is posing a major risk to the freedom of expression online. To sum up my argument: when attacks are easy to organize and botnets are cheap to rent, anyone with an even mildly provocative agenda is fair game and should start getting worried about ways to ensure that their (critical) content is available on the Internet (for it would surely be attacked at some point).

Here's another proof: Pirate Bay supporters seem to be organizing DDOS attacks on the site of IPFI, the music industry lobby group. There is an entire site offering detailed insructions and how-to manuals on launching DDOS attacks (curiously enough, the attacks are part of the "Operation Baylout" -  what a suiting name!)

TorrentFreaK has more:

The website of the music industry lobby group IFPI is suffering from an organized DDoS attack and has been unresponsive for the past few hours. The attack was organized by Pirate Bay supporters who don’t agree with the sentences handed out to the four defendants.

The attacks are part of Operation Baylout which also encourages people to send black faxes to the MPAA’s anti-piracy office and movie industry lawyer Monique Wadsted. Thus far, we have no confirmation that any fax machines have been taken down.

As an increase in politically motivated cyber-attacks reveals, not everyone turns to Twitter to ventilate their anger; some take much more proactive and damaging actions. The Pirate Bay-inspired cyber-attacks are interesting because they happen only a few days after Twitter was buzzing with discussions of the Pirate Bay verdict - perhaps, the result of "hashmobs", as Nicholas Carr dubbed this phenomenon in a brilliant post he penned last week. Here's what Carr said about "hashmobs":

A hashmob is a virtual mob that exists entirely within the Twitter realtime stream. It derives its name not from any kind of illicit pipeweed but from the "hashtags" that are commonly used to categorize tweets. Hashtags take the form of a hash sign, ie, #, in front of a word or word-portmanteau, eg, #obama or #obamadog. The members of a hashmob gather, virtually, around a particular hashtag by labeling each of their tweets with said hashtag and then following the resulting hashtag tweet stream. Hashmobbers don't have to subject themselves to the weather, and they don't actually have to be in proximity to any other physical being. A hashmob is a purely avatarian mob, though it is every bit as prone to the rapid cultivation of mass hysteria as a nonavatarian mob.

The Pirate Bay attacks show that pouring one's rage on Twitter and marking it with a hashtag could be a precursor to "DDOSmobs", which I define as groups of angry Internet users who prefer to take their anger beyond Twitter and other social media and organize "denial-of-service" (or DDOS) attacks. DDOSmobs are as toxic as hashmobs, but they actually have the capacity to cause real damage. DDOSmobs could be driven by nationalism (as was the case of cyber-attacks on Georgian web-sites last summer), hatred of particular minorities (as was the case with cyber-attacks on LGBT sites in Russia), or outrage over issues like piracy (as we now see in cyber-attacks on IPFI).

The political consequences here might be interesting. I doubt that attacks on IFPI's web-site are going to earn the Pirate Bay any more supporters. More likely, they would add to the public perception of "internet pirates" as criminals - which is very unfortunate given the unfolding discussions about the Pirate Bay verdict. Another interesting thing to watch here is whether any of IFPI's supporters would also engage in such attacks, for the sake of implicating the Pirate Bay in it (the Pirate Bay leaders, by the way, have publicly spoken out against the attacks and called them "pointless").


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