Welcome to All-Out CyberWar – Updated
I. In response to the new charges against PFC Bradley Manning that could result in capital punishment should he be convicted, the internet collective, Anonymous, has declared war on the U.S. military:
The clandestine hacker group known as Anonymous has been quite busy lately.
Yesterday we discussed how the group’s myriad operations might be affecting its overall impact – something an alleged member quickly countered in the comment section. Now we’re hearing new reports that the secretive members are focusing on military personnel in addition to the corporate executives they’ve long battled.
The New York Daily News wrote about Anonymous’ renewed efforts, citing a post at DailyKos. The statement made by Barrett Brown read, “The decision to charge Bradley Manning with a capital offense in addition to other charges is a provocation, and Anonymous is set to respond accordingly.”
Bradley Manning is the U.S. Army soldier charged with passing on classified, top-secret information to whistleblower site, WikiLeaks. More charges were recently added, including “aiding the enemy.” Manning faces life in prison if convicted.
In the past, Anonymous stood up for the controversial site created by the controversial man Julian Assange, going so far as to launch DDoS attacks against companies fighting against it – such as MasterCard. While the hacker collective promised to continue fighting against “corporate execs involved in plots against WikiLeaks,” its threat against the U.S. military for arresting and jailing Manning is certainly a new wrinkle in the ongoing story.
What type of cyber attack will be launched, and against whom? The statement specifies “military officials,” which suggests officers and other high ranking members.
Considering Anonymous’ recent shutdown of HBGary, a security company which saw CEO Aaron Barr resign last week thanks to a truly bizarre saga, there are no doubts the group will follow through with its promise. Just how much chaos it will cause is unknown.
One might hope that, in spite of the allegation that PFC Manning had managed to collect, load and dump a quarter million documents from a secure location at a U.S. base in Iraq onto the web without detection for many months, the U.S. military is capable of defending itself from such a cyber attack. The stuxnet cyber attack on Iran last year supposedly devastated that country’s network of centrifuges engaged in uranium enrichment.
Could “anonymous” gain access to stuxnet? I suspect they already have it, perhaps the most recent version. We will probably know by the middle of next week how deeply “anonymous” is going to engage the U.S. military. My prediction is that the attacks will be directed against the careers of generals and colonels who have been big supporters of attacks on free speech, foreign reporters and such. A likely early target will be the intensely dishonest Pentagon spokesperson, Geoff Morrell. Hang onto your hat, Geoff. It’s likely going to be a wild ride.
II. Marcy Wheeler, at her blog, emptywheel, conjuring Walt Kelly, observed yesterday, “We Have Met the Enemy, and He Is Us.” Parsing the new Department of the Army charges against Manning, she speculated (as have many others):
While we can’t be sure, I suspect the reference in Charge II, Specification 3 is to this information about the surveillance of Assange.
If I’m right about that, then it means the government is charging Manning with providing WikiLeaks with information about the surveillance being conducted, in real time, on WikiLeaks. And it would make it easy to prove both that “the enemy” got the information and that Manning intended the “enemy” to get it.
So if the government maintains that, by virtue of being an intelligence target, WikLeaks qualifies as an “enemy,” then they can also argue that Manning intentionally gave WikiLeaks information about how the government was targeting the organization. Which would make their aiding the enemy charge easy to prove.
But I also think that opens up the government to charges that it is criminalizing democracy.
As I noted above, the government’s own report on WikiLeaks describes its purpose to be increasing the accountability of democratic or corrupt governments. The government, by its own acknowledgment, knows that WikiLeaks’ intent is to support democracy. Furthermore, while the intelligence report reviews the debate about whether WikiLeaks constitutes protected free speech or criminal behavior (without taking a side in that debate), in a discussion of WikiLeaks’ efforts to verify an NGIC report on the battle of Fallujah, the report acknowledges that WikiLeaks did the kind of thing journalists do.
Is “anonymous”‘ response to the new charges against Manning likely to become criminal conduct? Wheeler’s research partner, attorney Bmaz, writes “Anonymous does no one any favors with these stunts, and certainly not Bradley Manning or WikiLeaks; this is criminal activity and it should be condemned not celebrated.”
That may be true, but it appears also to be true that Manning violated articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in his release of classified documents to Wikileaks. I’ve compared Manning to World War II heroine Sophie Scholl. I’m not sure what or who to compare “anonymous” to, but one needs to remember that they (and we) are fighting people and organizations who themselves willfully operate beyond or above the rule of law. With increasing impunity.
Update – Sunday 1:00 p.m. PST: Discussion in the comments below questions what “anonymous” stands for. Commenter Kelly Canfield posted a link to their manifesto, and posted its concluding part:
Our method of choosing targets is simple:
We are against anyone who supports censorship, such as those who are responsible for the silencing of Wikileaks.
We are against any entity that work towards the defilement of free speech and/or the free flow of information.
Our request of you is simple.
We ask you to consider the value of your natural Freedoms.
We ask you to consider the value of free information for you and future generations.
We ask you to consider the implications of information censorship, be it through the Internet or physical speech.
We ask you to consider the future of your own human rights, as those who wish to take these rights from you now will not stop with this.
To answer one question asked in the post, it does appear that Anonymous has posted a partially decompiled version of Stuxnet that they pilfered from the rootkit.com website where top security people discuss/analyze malware.
You can be sure that if anonymous could get past supposedly hot-shot security experts, they’ll be able to find some sleepy military outpost where they get access to serious military systems (see the ars technica webpage above to find out exactly how they did the HBGary take down – it’s a well-written thriller).
Anyway, to those who wrote the Stuxnet worm – nice job! who could a thunk it being made public to be unleashed upon the world, what with millions of computers still running Windows 98 and such.