2011-01-04 Convictions of an Anonymous Legion

ImageUnless the sources of the DDoS attacks being carried out by Anonymous are identified and stopped, there seems to be no end in sight for their deluge of operations. These 'AnonOps' are presented as global outreach operations of sorts, aimed at assisting individuals and organizations subjected to persecution by governments and other institutions aiming to silence free expression and dissent.

The Tunisian people are perceived by Anonymous to be in need of global support and the same can be said of Wikileaks. In particular, the consensus seems to be that governments and other powerful bodies have chosen to pursue Julian Assange and his collaborators for having exposed crimes committed by those same institutions. As Assange has often pointed out himself, it is a disturbing fact about the current situation that upon learning about the horrendous crimes exposed through the leaks, the first impulse has not been to pursue the culprits, but instead to punish individuals who acted on conscience to make those crimes known.

Whether the Anonymous group can succeed in its attempts to raise awareness of these issues and to discourage censorship hangs on the question of whether its members can be stopped. How likely is it that Anonymous members will be identified prosecuted?

While 2 DDoS attack-related arrests have apparently been made in December, deterrence does not seem to be in the cards, given the number of participants actively engaged in these operations. The situation is reminiscent of illegal peer-to-peer file sharing activities worldwide, for instance, in which innumerable users freely share illegitimate content without fear of legal repercussion. Although some arrests are occasionally made, the torrent of active users unleashed by Napster, Limewire and later BitTorrent technology, has become unmanageable for law enforcement.

A direct analogy can be drawn with respect to the now widespread use of LOIC software. As of mid December, one study estimated that the number of LOIC downloads topped 43,000 in just one week. The number has surely escalated dramatically since then. Interestingly, nearly one-third of the LOIC downloads are based in the United States. Other countries with significant numbers include UK, Germany, Netherlands, Canada, France, Spain, Poland, Russia and Australia. (Source)

With overflowing prisons and national defense spending becoming clearly unsustainable in the United States, for instance, it is natural to wonder whether government possesses the resources required to identify and pursue any significant number of hacktivist participants. As participant numbers grow and technology provides new methods of attack, the likelihood of deterrence and prosecution seems to approach negligible probabilities.

While the Anonymous self-imposed title of "Legion" may have seemed like little more than a cliché to the casual reader, the data indicate otherwise. And while popular headlines may suggest that "the world is at cyberwar with America" and other enemies of Wikileaks, the data show that a vast number of Americans are on board with Anonymous ideals. As numbers grow, use of the term "Legion" begins to look less like a metaphor than an accurate description.

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