Talking Anonymous on ABC 774 Melbourne

ABC logoAnonymous was back in the news last week following their declaration of war against Islamic State, and the declaration of last Friday as a day of trolling against IS.

On Tuesday night, I spoke about the “organisation” and its history with ABC 774 Melbourne evening presenter Lindy Burns.

The audio is ©2015 Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Talking propaganda hacks on 2UE

2UE logoThis was the week that the Australian media returned from holidays. What caught the eye, or ear, of Justin Smith on Sydney’s radio 2UE on Tuesday afternoon was the series of hacks and planned hacks for political purposes.

Someone had hacked the Twitter and YouTube accounts of US Central Command (CENTCOM) — although it probably wasn’t Islamic State. And Anonymous, or at least their French-speaking sections, announced that they were declaring war on the jihadists.

I’m posting the audio stream even though it suffers some dropouts. I’m assuming this was just the stream back to me, rather than the broadcast chain, because we continued on air regardless.

This audio is ©2015 Radio 2UE Sydney Pty Ltd.

Talking LulzSec and hacktivism on Triple J’s “Hack”

Triple J logoOn Tuesday, Triple J’s current affairs program Hack decided to take a look at hacktivism more generally in the wake of Matthew Flannery’s arrest — and boy was it a shemozzle!

I was interviewed for half an hour or more. Also interviewed were independent journalist and “chaos magnet” Asher Wolf, and Nigel Phair from the Centre for Internet Safety. Snippets of all that were used in the package that introduced the live studio debate. Fairly standard stuff. But…

When I listened to the program go to air, I was frustrated. Very frustrated. The discussion didn’t really go beyond “Is hacktivism good or what? Yep it is!” “No it’s not.” “Oh it is!” And with the benefit of hindsight, I think that’s because the discusion was framed the wrong way.

“Do you think that some targets are legitimate? Are groups like Anonymous a force for good? Or do you reckon that it’s a slippery slope to say that one kind of hacking is acceptable, but others are cyberterrorism?” asked presenter Sophie McNeill as she introduced the segment. Those positioning questions were repeated several times, and they kinda miss the point.

This framing pre-supposes that there’s a single, clearly-identifiable activity that we can point to and call “hacktivism”. It positions hacktivism as a neutral tool, and whether it’s legitimate to use this tool or not depends on the legitimacy of the target as an object to attack.

I guess that in this framing, hacktivism is like a baseball bat. It’s OK to hit baseballs with it, but not the fragile skulls of newborn infants. But it’s not.

Hacktivism is just the application of hacker techniques to political activism and, as the Wikipedia article points out, it covers a lot of territory.

There’s using “neat hacks” like encryption and tools to preserve anonymity to help protect the organisers of the activism. There’s the provision of alternative internet access when the government cuts off the official methods, as happened in Egypt. There’s the mirroring of otherwise censored websites to protect free speech, or setting up parody sites to mock the opponents, or spreading disinformation.

Then there’s denial of service (DoS) attacks to disrupt the opponents’ communications. And, yes, there’s the break-and-enter kind of hacking, the results of which can range from relatively harmless website defacements to the theft and “liberation” of large slabs of information — which can of course make collateral-damage victims of any individuals caught up in that process.

There’s a spectrum of behaviour there, from straightforward and long-established ways of supporting freedom of speech to edgier activities that in any other context would simply be labelled vandalism, criminal damage or worse.

If you lump all that together as a single activity, “hacktivism”, and then ask whether it’s legitimate to direct that activity in support of a particular political objective, well, the answer will depend on whether you agree with that objective or not.

“Stilgherrian says there’s a few examples where hacktivism has been really legit, like during the Arab Spring,” said journalist Julia Holman. Sure — apart from the phrase “really legit” — but not because having a disagreeable government justifies vandalism.

The hackerish acts I meant were those directed to keeping the communications channels open and organising a fairly traditional street uprising. The rest of the planet has agreed that freedom of speech is pretty fundamental stuff. They also seemed to agree that this conflict had turned hot. People were being killed, and when that starts happening it’s gloves-off all round.

I’ve included the audio of the entire discussion here, so you can listen for yourself. I’d be interested to know what you think, and whether this discussion frustrates you as much as it frustrated me.

A shout-out to Paris

First, though, I must give a special shout-out to Paris, whose hilariously out of touch comment was read on air: “This is the only form of activism our generation has… Our petitions are ignored. Anonymous is able to do justice to people who have lost a voice.”

No, Paris, all the traditional methods of political lobbying and activism still work just fine — well, in their creaky, democratic way.

It was good ol’ political lobbying of the government, and associated PR efforts in the media, that brought the controversial mandatory data retention proposals to a halt in this election year, not the vandalism of completely unrelated Queensland government websites. It was Senator Scott Ludlam asking intelligent questions of the Attorney-General’s Department in parliamentary committees, not stupidly confusing the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) with the Queensland Department of State Development (DSD).

The trick, Paris, is to put down the hacker DoS hammer every now and then, because not everything is a nail. Choose one of the other, more appropriate, tools of democracy from the shelf when circumstances require.

Note: Dr Suelette Dreyfus from the University of Melbourne, a long-time observer of hacktivism, provided a significantly narrower definition of hacktivism in the program: “Hacking, in the terminology that is used in everyday reporting, which is not necessarily what the original term was, is about unauthorised access to computers and computer systems. Hacktivism is really about engaging in that, but with a political or social message.”

The audio is of course ©2013 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. I’ve extracted the hacktivism segment to present here, but you can go to the ABC website for the full 30-minute episode (MP3).

Weekly Wrap 144: In the forest, trolled by rosellas

Crimson rosellas at Bunjaree Cottages: click to embiggenIn retrospect, and posting one day late, the week of Monday 4 to Sunday 10 March 2013 was remarkably unproductive — mostly thanks to a continuing minor illness.

So the photograph of the crimson rosellas is apt. I spent much of my time hanging around Bunjaree Cottages. The rosellas figured that out very quickly — as they usually do — and were turning up each morning to demand food. I’m a soft touch.


Both of the articles I wrote this week were representatives of my column The Full Tilt for ZDNet. It’s scheduled to run every Thursday, but since I didn’t write one last week I had one on Monday as well.

  • Beware! Anonymous has become the Hello Kitty of hacktivism, ZDNet Australia, 4 March 2013. The reaction of some Anonymous fans was interesting, because they couldn’t see beyond “You said something bad about Anonymous” and responded with unfocused personal attacks rather than addressing the issues. I’m hoping to find time to write about that this week.
  • Will you stop with all your ‘cybering’ already?, ZDNet Australia, 7 March 2013. “When someone starts warning you of ‘cyberthreats’, check your wallet and keys. You’re probably about to be conned,” it begins.


Still none.

Media Appearances

None of these either.

Corporate Largesse

And none of these either. I told you it was an unproductive week.

The Week Ahead

Well this week is going to be somewhat more productive. He says boldly. Today, Monday, will be a gentle start to it all, but I hope to knock off some analysis for Technology Spectator and lock in some planning — because everything keeps damn well changing.

On Tuesday I’m heading to Sydney for a media briefing by Trend Micro, followed by lunch, and probably writing up same. I’ll stay overnight because LG is launching their new smartphone, the Optimus G, on Wednesday morning and I’m curious to see how they’re going to pitch it in the face of such stiff competition from Samsung.

I’m heading to Sydney on Thursday morning too, mostly to get the results of some blood tests taken on the weekend and deal with whatever medical matters may ensue, but I plan to stay in Sydney until Saturday for a variety of work-related reasons. Probably.

[Photo: Yesterday’s visitors, photographed on 4 March 2013. A pair of crimson rosellas at Bunjaree Cottages.]

[Update 23 March 2013: Edited photo description to correct the date.]

Talking the ABC hack on “7.30”

Screengrab of Stilgherrian on "7.30": click for storyI was interviewed by ABC TV’s current affairs program 7.30 on Wednesday about the hack of an ABC website, in a story called Hacker attacks ABC, private information released.

The hack was apparently in revenge for the Lateline interview with controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders. The tweet claiming responsibility for the attack used the #OpWilders hashtag, the label for Anonymous’ ongoing protects against Wilders, but the operators of known Anonymous social media accounts are distancing themselves from this one.

Parts of the interview were also used in that night’s episide of Lateline, and a written story for ABC News Online.

It’s my third appearance on 7.30. I’ve previously spoken about the News of the World voicemail hacks and Anonymous’ hack of Stratfor.

Transcript: Hacking and irrational actors in Redfern

Back in February I spoke at the “Freedom of Information? panel held in Redfern by Recordkeeping Roundtable. I’ve previously posted the audio of my contribution. Here’s a transcript.

Recordkeeping Roundtable’s website has the raw transcript as supplied, but I’ve decided to edit it up a little to make it more readable. Enjoy.

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