The hacktivist organization known as Anonymous has announced its plans to disable the internet this Saturday, March 31st. The group has been known to bring down websites, large ones at that, but has never attempted something as large as the entire internet before.
This announcement, other than its enormous scope, should come as a surprise to nobody. Indeed, they threatened retaliation for the arrests of 25 of their members last month. But their plan for Saturday isn’t about vengeance. Instead, it is about combating the still live threat by Congress on the autonomy of the internet through revised versions of the Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA). These pieces of legislation, which saw the largest online protest in history, along with ACTA, do indeed represent a serious threat to the internet as we know it.
Their mode of attack is par for the course for Anonymous. By using a method known as distributed denial of service attack the plan is to attack what Anonymous calls the internet’s thirteen root servers. If the servers are overloaded with request from IP address, it will stop redirecting others. In essence, anyone else trying to access the internet will get the web equivalent of a busy signal. A momentarily lapsed internet will not affect other communications which rely on separate internet frameworks and devices. But the enormity and daring of this undertaking is something to consider. In a world utterly reliant on the internet, whirling around at lightning speeds, the lack of access to the internet, albeit even if for only a day, will certainly have its repercussions, whether cultural or technological or both.
But is it even possible?
According to the security firm Errata Security’s Robert Graham, not so much. In a statement on the issue, Graham went on to say that while such an attack was possible it is unlikely to succeed on Saturday. He holds that even if Anonymous is able to cause problems on the local level, the attack will never go global. But he warns that “just because I say Anonymous can’t do it doesn’t it mean it can’t be done.”
But even with the advanced warning, Alan Woodward, a professor in the department of computing at the University of Surrey, thinks that Anonymous could do some real damage. In an opinion piece for the BBC news, Woodward cited Brian Honan, an information security expert for BH Consulting, as saying “unfortunately, despite [DNS] vulnerability being widely known for many years, a large proportion of DNS servers are still not configured correctly to prevent this type of attack.”
Even the VP of Radware Security, Carl Herberger stated that he is surprised that many of his colleagues are not taking the threat seriously. He credits his concern to several DNS vulnerabilities, some of them due to design flaws and social engineering vulnerabilities, but also from insiders interested in “ideological payback.”
While I do not know what will happen on Saturday, part of me does wish for them to succeed. The sheer boldness of it makes me root for the underdog in the fight. But that being said I feel that even if they should fail in Operation Blackout, they will still have succeeded in pressing the issue of internet censorship. My hope, whatever transpires on Saturday, is that the online community stay ever vigilant in opposing any legislation which would damage and censor the greatest tool for the sharing of ideas and promotion of freedom the world has ever known. And that, for me, is a big enough win.
What do you think? Is Anonymous helping or hurting their cause? Let us know in the comments section below.