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The First Social Cyberwar as the class warfare of the 21st cy: On the convergence of hacktivism with social movements

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
22nd June 2011


1.

Make no mistake- this is not a minor struggle between state nerds and rogue geeks- this is the battlefield of the 21st Century, with the terms and conditions of war being configured before our very eyes. Given the significant economic disruption online activism and hacking can cause, and the power online tools have to agitate, plan and execute IRL activism, the current increase in tensions between hackers and the capital/state partnership is every bit as significant as the continuing developments of the Arab Spring, with which the online activist movements are inextricably linked.

2.

Hackers are upping their game to match the rhetoric used against them; indeed, in the past few years security breaches have shown the potential weaknesses in systems that could, in future, be exploited as part of war. Today, however, hackers are, essentially, exploiting those breaches. When a group makes a “significant and tenacious” attack on a lynchpin of the military-industrial complex like Lockheed Martin, talks of “potential” cyberwar become a thing of the past. We have arrived, we are deep within the first cyberwar.

Very interesting commentary from Internet Artizans:

(the original has many links!)

“The Deterritorial Support Group (DSG) have written a must-read post called ‘Twenty reasons why it’s kicking off in cyberspace‘. It’s a necessary close reading of recent dynamics among political hackers which highlights the emergence of a social cyberwar alongside the Arab Spring. I hope their text inspires more people in social movements to pay attention to hacktivism.

On the other hand, it behoves hackers and their supporters to connect more directly to the social movements on the ground. For one, it is a dualism to separate online and offline; while the internet establishes certain conditions of possibility it is not immaterial and neither are the hacktivists themselves. To carry on talking about cyberspace without being explicit about it’s connection both to the bedroom and the street is unhelpful.

Secondly and more practically is the hard-won experience of social movements around defendants campaigns. Back in the day, I pointed out that “you’ll know social media is making a social difference when people start getting arrested for it”. What I see in the Lulzsec press releases is an intoxicated mishief making but no sense of the sheer brutality that The Man is capable of. After a popular carnival of creative opposition to the Poll Tax was converted into a pitched battle by police heavy-handedness, wise heads realised that the next step would be to blame & arrest the protesters. So they set up the Trafalgar Square Defendants Campaign, an agile, nationwide and community-based movement of legal defence for people being railroaded in to court. (Sadly, being a pre-digital social movement, it’s history is yet-to-be written online).

I think we can see a similar evolution around Anonymous; as Spain arrests Anonymous suspects a Facebook group emerges which seems to be calling for solidarity demos. I’m not saying we should stamp the Lulz out of activism – the cheeky communique has been a feature of political activism from the Angry Brigade to anti-globalization. The hope is that the savvy around solidarity becomes stronger as online & offline social movements intertwine more closely.

The overlap seems to be accelerating. One part of the ‘splintered politicisation’ of Anonymous observed by the DSG is the appearance of an Op against Monsanto – so hacktivism joins a movement who’s main prior activism has been the very embodied and sweaty work of pulling up GM crops by day or night.

And as DSG rightly call on us to master seemingly-immaterial tools like diaspora, flattr and bitcoin, others have taken a tip from the complete Internet shutdown in Egypt and are busy trying to cook up alternative network infrastructures. How do we best merge these efforts with older infrastructures of legal defence and solidarity?”

**

This is an excerpt from the DSG article referred to above:

“Running alongside the (still unfolding) Arab Spring, informing and shaping and being shaped in turn by those events, was a developing online conflict with major similarities; young, optimistic graduates who saw societies in more generalised terms of “power”, highly networked, informal and decentralised decision making processes and a deep cynicism and mistrust of traditional power elites and political ideologies. In the last month especially we’ve seen a series of events and developments that are changing the game of cyber-war (and cyber-class-war).

So what’s going on in cyberspace? What we’re seeing is a significant escalation in serious geo-political combat, and the mainstream press has failed in it’s coverage so far. Perhaps years of rehashing press releases have left many hacks without the critical journalistic capabilities to monitor, study, explain and contextualise the recent events of the cyber-war, leaving the majority of the populace completely in the dark as to what’s happening, and how governments and (unelected) transnational organisations are investing significant resources in an attempt to limit online freedoms.

Make no mistake- this is not a minor struggle between state nerds and rogue geeks- this is the battlefield of the 21st Century, with the terms and conditions of war being configured before our very eyes. Given the significant economic disruption online activism and hacking can cause, and the power online tools have to agitate, plan and execute IRL activism, the current increase in tensions between hackers and the capital/state partnership is every bit as significant as the continuing developments of the Arab Spring, with which the online activist movements are inextricably linked. Below we have laid out a brief overview of recent events. This list is necessarily partial, given the complexity, history and depth of the situation, and we are by no means experts in the field; we would recommend people use it as a jumping off point to help get more educated (we have heavily hyperlinked the text FYI). Get googling.”

Some major points of this brilliant analysis:

(all below extracted from original)

1. At the heart of it is a newly politicised generation of hackers who have moved from a lulz-based psychic-economy to an engaged, socially-aware and politically active attitude towards world events, primarily as a reaction to the way governments and multinationals dealt with the fallout of Wikileaks. The “politicisation of 4chan” and the birth of Anonymous have set the stage for a practice of socially-engaged hacktivism of a form and scale we’ve not seen before.

2. This new “political hacktivist” class are digital natives and have become evangelised by passing through the immoral free-for-all of 4chan, to the development of a political critique and political programme through Anonymous. Digital natives are radicalised primarily by the threat to their internet freedom, with the continued shift in policy by global governments against the assumed freedoms of the net (laid out in the past). A natural by-product will be the continued radicalism of youth online.

4. For net natives, there’s a definite sense of an international, borderless identity, whereby on a day-to-day level national borders hold less and less meaning. If your interactions with a fellow computer users are the same whether they live in London, Texas or Cairo, the narratives of national difference start to break down. Instead, they define according to their roles and activities online, and their values and political beliefs: a new, international class of immateriality, with all the repercussions of online solidarity that holds. 5. This erosion of borders has manifested itself strongly in the way newly radicalised hacktivists related to the unfolding events of the Arab Spring. As Paul Mason points out in his blogpost “People have a better understanding of power. The activists have read their Chomsky and their Hardt-Negri, but the ideas therein have become mimetic: young people believe the issues are no longer class and economics but simply power.” This highly problematic retreat from a fundamentally economic analysis has, despite it’s problems, enabled a casual ease with which the issue of international solidarity is approached.

8. These emergent groups are able to carry out sustained and targeted attacks under a rebrand of sorts, a multiplicity of approach that cannot be assigned entirely to the collective identity of Anonymous. This often allows group to act without the need to deal with moral faggotry.

11. With entire parts of infrastructure now plugged into the network, there exists a real threat and possibility for hacker/cyberattack based offensives across borders. We saw this during the South Ossetia War in 2008, when Georgia suffered extensive damage from cyberattack, or in the ongoing standoff between Iran and the US/Israel, where the US/Israel succeeded in feeding Stuxnet, a worm, into the Iranian nuclear programme infrastructure.

12. Governments are responding with a conscious and concerted effort to reframe cyber activity and activism as criminality against state and capital, which, no doubt, will soon be upgraded to a form of terrorism

16. Anonymous have started to engage in more active outreach programmes, such as bootcamp training. This is of particular importance for the generation that grew up online or politicised through anonymous and 4chan, many who were drawn to the “movement” with more radical inclinations and have had the time now to develop a deeper understanding of hacking tools etc… or at very least become adept skiddys.

19. Despite the enormous presumed weighting in favour of the authorities, hackers still hold primacy, and that’s what gives the situation such political potency.

20.Hackers are upping their game to match the rhetoric used against them; indeed, in the past few years security breaches have shown the potential weaknesses in systems that could, in future, be exploited as part of war. Today, however, hackers are, essentially, exploiting those breaches. When a group makes a “significant and tenacious” attack on a lynchpin of the military-industrial complex like Lockheed Martin, talks of “potential” cyberwar become a thing of the past. We have arrived, we are deep within the first cyberwar.”

Lulzsec armory?

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