Retaliation for the death of Aaron Swartz continues, but is it really doing any good
The quasi-leaderless hacker group Anonymous continues to batter government websites and databases in “OpLastResort” — a campaign design to protest the death of internet activist Aaron Schwarz. Mr. Swartz, who helped design the RSS standard, committed suicide last month after being harassed by federal prosecutors.
I. State Department, Federal Agents page hacked
The latest actions of OpLastResort echo those of many Anonymous campaigns. They clearly catch attention and see some success, but raise serious questions about whether they are truly fulfilling their intended purpose.
In the latest hack Anonymous broke into U.S. State Department servers, stealing records of hundreds of staffers. It published online State Department employees’ names, email addresses and phone numbers .
Of course, the damage here is questionable — while putting out this information in a central location certainly invites harassment of the employees, the information is no more than what would be found if you took a business trips to State Department locations and collected some business cards.
Anonymous also defaced a website “FederalAgents.org“:
(The humorless chaps, however, didn’t put clever messages in the page code)
The page is the landing spot for the National Association of Federal Agents (NAFA), which describes its mission, stating:
The rest of the page appears intact.
II. Bank Also Hacked
And in a third — and arguably most impactful hack — the group obtained and published bank transactions from George K. Baum & Comp., a U.S. investment banking firm, which Anonymous claims is affiliated with Stratfor. Stratfor is a global intelligence firm that has worked with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Anonymous claims that Strafor has assisted the CIA in spying on U.S. citizens.
Granted, GKBM has a relatively small customer base, but still the fact that account numbers and names are exposed could leave certain individuals open to identity theft. In that regard the operation embodies a sort of bloodless digital terrorism, which nonetheless may harm some individuals financially.
Anonymous surely feels that the “collateral” damage is justified and that those who support institutions that in turn work with the federal government — which it views as corrupt — are guilty by association. However, others may disagree.
Anonymous’s campaign may fuel new Orwellian government measures.
[Image Source: Jason Mick/DailyTech]
And a danger, as ReadWrite‘s Adam Popescu eloquently states, is that the hacks may fuel federal efforts to hastily push through cybersecurity legislation, legislation that many fear has Orwellian surveillance and anti-privacy provisions.
Currently two bills — the Senate’s “Cybersecurity Act”, bill, S.2105 [PDF], and the House’s “Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act” H.R. 3523 — are on the table. Last week President Obama published an executive order mandating a framework for voluntary corporate security risk sharing with federal agencies. But the new cybersecurity bills go far beyond that relatively spineless order, and have privacy advocates concerned.
But much like the idealistic, anarchic disestablishmentarianism of the Arab Spring gave way to the consolidation of power by Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi — a man who critics claims is appointing himself “pharaoh” with limitless powers — Anonymous may see its own anti-establishment ideals fueling the expansion of the kinds of abuses it most fears.
Mahatma Gandhi famously said:
While the lust for vengeance for the apparent injustice done to Mr. Swartz is understandable, and it may be gratifying to many to see damage done to the government, one has to wonder whether Gandhi’s words hold true in the digital world much as they do in the physical world — if violence begets violence.