Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cyberworld War I - it's not just a computer war

Yesterday I published a post entitled Cyberworld War I? Among other things, it attempted to identify the two alliances that are fighting each other in the current cyberwar. I haven't come up with cool names like Triple Alliance and Triple Entente yet, but I'm working on it.

Based upon what I wrote yesterday, as well as other news (such as Dave Winer's post and this BBC item), the two alliances are as follows:

  • Wikileaks, Anonymous/4chan, DataCell, Daniel Ellsberg, Ken Loach, Jemima Khan, John Pilger, Patricia David, Geoffrey Sheen, the New York Times, and the Guardian.

  • U.S. Government, Swedish Government, Mastercard, Visa, PayPal, Sarah Palin, Gene Simmons, and Amazon.

Obviously alliances make strange bedfellows - you normally don't see Simmons and Palin mentioned in the same sentence.

A lot of people are talking about the current cyberwar, but Trevor Butterworth pointed out something important:

If you are fighting against child pornography on the Internet, for example, you are fighting an infowar against cyber gangs in Eastern Europe – and it’s a real war with real, savage violence as a consequence.

But if you are, engaged in what the founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation John Perry Barlow calls the “first serious infowar” over Wikileaks, you, “the troops,” are not facing death or even a slap-happy cop on riot-duty overtime. Instead, you are engaged in a simulacrum of war in which the baddies (always the U.S., and corporations) can be hack-attacked with righteousness, while the goodies (you) get to hide behind the tangible security of civil society.

In other words, you can refuse to allow a customer to use your services (Mastercard), or you can refuse to allow another company's customers to use its services (Anonymous), but if you are challenged, you can conceivably enjoy the rights of western society. Even Julian Assange, though he is in jail right now, has access to lawyers and presumably gets fed.

But "the tangible security of civil society" is not always preserved in war. Take the example of the war against cybercrime on the Internet. Seems like a war that you can wage behind the safety of your computer, right? Wrong. Butterworth links to a story from Joseph Menn that demonstrates that cybercrime battles are not confined to the computer. Excerpt:

I briefly told the story of a colleague of Jart's who was investigating mob activity in St. Petersburg, Russia. The colleague made the mistake of working with the local police. Before he finished his assignment, the man's teenage daughter was kidnapped from her Western country, and the investigator got a message that if he dropped the case, the rest of his children might be okay.

That was five years ago. I had to leave the story hanging in the book because there had been no closure. A couple of weeks ago, the man got a new message. His daughter was in Kazakhstan, and he could have her back as long as he agreed not to look into certain of the gang's activities....The family has been reunited, though the young woman is not the same as she was. She was fed drugs and used to service men.

There is the possibility that Cyberworld War I could go in the same direction. Today people are harrassing each other. Tomorrow, someone may be assassinated (just like Archduke Ferdinand in 1914). Next thing you know, real poison gas might be flying around (again, just like 1914).

And just to indicate how big this may become, security expert Bruce Schneier has said the following about Wikileaks:

I don't have a lot to say about WikiLeaks....

Why not?

This has little to do with WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks is just a website. The real story is that "least trusted person" who decided to violate his security clearance and make these cables public. In the 1970s he would have mailed them to a newspaper. Today he uses WikiLeaks. Tomorrow he will have his choice of a dozen similar websites. If WikiLeaks didn't exist, he could have put them up on BitTorrent.

But Wikileaks is a potent symbol for Joe Lieberman and other anti-Wikileaks forces, just like the evil Hun from 1917. Similarly, the U.S. Government or Mastercard or whoever is a potent symbol for the pro-Wikileaks forces, just like...well, just like the evil Hun from 1917. Or perhaps the evil Hun from 1933. Yeah, I know that we're talking about World War I, not World War II, but trust me - Godwin's Law will come into play soon, if it hasn't already. (Oops - exactly HOW did that leaked U.S. cable refer to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?)
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