Hacking, Phreaking, Anonymous and Asymmetrical warfare

The Anonymous protest from 2011--a youtube video from a site devoted to them.

The Anonymous protest from 2011–a youtube video from a site devoted to them.

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, I was following the antics of the wildly amorphous phenomenon known as Hacking. Short history: Hacking originated at MIT in the 1950’s as part of their model train club. In the days before phones and computers became almost identical, people like John Draper became the godfathers of ‘Phreaking’–they figured out how to break into phone systems and change out billing and other issues. Jonathan Draper is credited (reportedly incorrectly) with figuring out that a Captain Crunch whistle, if properly blown into a telephone receiver, could override Bell Telephone’s billing and other functions. The whistle was blowing at 2600 cycles per second; hence the naming of the hacker collective (and publication) 2600. Hacking superseded and assimilated Phreaking once everything went over T1 lines.

Hacking wasn’t originally political so much as it was a friendly competition between a hardcore group of electronic hobbyists–people trying to impress each other. The kinds of hacks/phreaks that became famous were cases like Miami Dade PD, where someone upset with their parole supervision system hacked the phone system for probationary call-ins so that the parolees were hooked up to charge-per-minute sex lines (which billed back to the county). That relative indifference to politics and money started to change with the rise of personal computers and (especially) the ubiquity of phone hookups for network servers via phone lines. Once hackers could get anywhere and access any company’s internet-based servers, there was both cyber-blackmail (hacker groups threatening to bring down a company’s network assets unless ransom was paid) and political hacking. And now we have weaponized cyber-warfare with virus programs such as Stuxnet being used to interfere with Iran’s nuclear centrifuge program. There have been allegations of cyber-attacks originating out of China targeting the US NORAD facility. It is a dirty secret that virtually all the microchips built into highly sensitive US weapons and communications networks originated in the PRC. But I digress.

This is all context for an introduction of the group Anonymous, which appeared on the scene in 2003 but gained notoriety in more recent years. For those of us not paying attention, Anonymous has taken on corporations and governments–it has defended the rights of free speech on the Internet and taken down groups and governments that censor speech or bully others. There’s a great list of the eight best things Anonymous has ever done, but it doesn’t do justice to the other kinds of targets Anonymous has taken on. When Paypal, VISA and Mastercard refused to process donations for Wikileaks, Anonymous reportedly took down servers. They and Wikileaks also let people know that the credit card companies had no problem processing donations for white supremacists. They hacked Bank of America’s servers again in order to point out the big banks’ backing of illegal surveillance of activists.

Currently, Anonymous is also trying to bring interest to the case of Aaron Swartz, the young programmer at MIT who felt the full force of authority when he built a search engine for an MIT database and put the improved database online. there’s a documentary being created about the case, but let me tell you the unhappy ending. Swartz committed suicide after it became obvious the government wanted to make an example out of him–they were threatening a 35 year prison sentence.

Some in Anonymous have called for (and warned of) action in support of Bradley Manning, the PFC who leaked info about US war crimes to Wikileaks. There are also rumblings that the prosecutors who were after Aaron Swartz may soon feel the wrath of the hackers. Police officers caught in public acts of brutality have already had their information hacked. For many, Anonymous seems to be the only entity willing to stand up against injustices from the government/ corporate nexus. Since Anonymous is an amorphous group with no chain of command or even contact between the hacktivists, it’s impossible to pinpoint what they might do in a given circumstance. The model for Anonymous’ actions is asymmetrical war–it doesn’t matter how many guns or aircraft or combat-ready troops the government has if a small group of renegades can disrupt their communications or even break the chain of command and issue contradictory orders. It’s like an IED only more effective with less bloodshed.

So that’s Anonymous. Some people might think of them as being bullies. They think of themselves as taking down the bullies–and the biggest bullies of all are the governments that fear them.

I feel guilty saying much more about them. So if you’re interested in what one alleged member of the collective thought was worth saying on the radio at WBCR,  go to the Sex and Politics website in the next few days and download a really special podcast. You’ll be glad you did.  In the meantime, you should take their motto seriously:

We are Anonymous

We Are Legion

We do not forgive

We do not forget

Expect us

PS: I could go on about this all day, but suffice to say there are more than a few folks who are incarcerated who may or may not be affiliated with Anonymous and its hacks. Here’s the case of Jeremy Hammond, accused of releasing information about Stratfor, a private intelligence company. The released documents indicate that Stratfor had contracted to perform surveillance on victims of Bhopal and surveillance of the Occupy Wall Street movement for the Department of Homeland Security.  Those of you not old enough to remember Iran Contra might note that the interest in ‘privatization’ of intelligence by the Reagan Administration had a lot to do with the fact that private entities can break laws that the FBI and CIA cannot. Somebody needed to reveal this information. In the meantime, you could do worse than write to Jeremy, who’s been in lockup for over a year. There’s more information about Jeremy on the Operation Pen Pal website.

Jeremy Hammond
Metropolitan Correctional Center
150 Park Row
New York, NY 10007

UPDATE 2/20/2014

Those of you who’ve followed my blog know that Jeremy Hammond was sentenced to 10 years for his hacks of various entities. I bring this up because today, the Bhopal victims (targeted for harassment and surveillance by Stratfor) are appearing at the United Nations to ask for justice for their injuries. There’s more about their case here

In the meantime, Here’s Jeremy’s address in jail.

Jeremy Hammond

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