DDoS Hacktivism: How Anonymous Utilized Kairos and Exigence To Save Net Neutrality

I wrote about something that isn't BJJ. Sue me.

Jones and Dewey offer insight on the effectiveness of social media platforms particularly Twitter in their respective pieces regarding social activism in the digital age, but they fail to address perhaps the most valuable tool used by online activists known as a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.

A DDoS attack is a modern cyber warfare tactic that involves using a community of computers to send a massive amount of requests to a target website until the site crashes.

The Internet Archive, home of the Wayback Machine, was hit with a DDoS attack in June 2016 for allegedly hosting ISIS-related materials. In May 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) revealed plans for abolishing the principle of net neutrality, legislatively mandated two years ago. Their feedback website was later attacked. There are also reports from Great Britain’s Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) concerning DDoS attacks as an alleged foreign interference in the 2016 Brexit vote.

DDoS attacks have a history of being used as a tool for political struggle.

Molly Sauter from Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society wrote The Coming Swarm: DDoS Actions, Hacktivism and Civil Disobedience. It’s a book that explores her research detailing the history of DDoS attacks from being a rebel venture carried out by free-thinking artists and intellectuals to a contemporary symbol of digital activism. Sauter found an early example of a DDoS attack that happened in 1995 to protest against the French government’s nuclear policy.

Amy Harmon wrote this article in the New York Times in 1998 reviewing the powerful tools of hacktivism and FloodNet; a program kit that directed a user’s traffic to a target server. These attacks were described as a kind of “virtual sit-in.”

Hacktivism was growing in the late 90’s; program kits like FloodNet were gaining notoriety as a tool that anyone with an internet connection could use to protest against things like Bio-Warfare and even The White House.

The famous hacker collective Anonymous took this idea of crowd-sourced activism even further by popularizing the technological concept of botnets. Botnets are basically a large number of interconnected computer systems hosting an abundance of processing power. Simply put, it’s a network with a lot of processing capability that’s utilized to crash offending servers at any user’s request.

Anonymous revolutionized the technological details of the DDoS attack, the result of each digital mutation of the device is the increase in the overall effectiveness and scale of the attacks. Sauter explains in her book how the hacker collective does a good job attracting and manipulating media coverage to draw in more DDoS participants.

The hacker group represented by the iconic Guy Fawkes mask actually pushed for a petition in favor of the legalization of politically motivated DDoS attacks in 2013, claiming that DDoS shouldn’t be illegal because they are really just a way for people to carry out protests online. The following is an excerpt from the petition:

With the advance in internet techonology, comes new grounds for protesting. Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS), is not any form of hacking in any way. It is the equivalent of repeatedly hitting the refresh button on a webpage. It is, in that way, no different than any “occupy” protest. Instead of a group of people standing outside a building to occupy the area, they are having their computer occupy a website to slow (or deny) service of that particular website for a short time.

Anonymous claims responsibility for a lot of the DDoS attacks happening nowadays. The majority of these attacks have political overtones.

I looked at how Anonymous utilized the ancient rhetorical concepts exigence and kairos during their recent attack on America’s broadband watchdog, the FCC. Exigence is the term used to describe an event or situation that demands a circumstantial reaction. For this particular scenario, the exigence is FCC announcing it’s intent to kill net neutrality.

Net neutrality is the legislative order stating internet service providers (ISPs) must treat all internet traffic the same. If the principle is overturned, then ISPs could essentially create fast lanes for preferred internet traffic while slowing traffic from other sources.

Hold up! Does anyone smell that?
Ugh, that smell…
..smells like.

If there is any collective group on earth with exceptionally anti-censorship values, it’s Anonymous. I mean, they were the ones to DDoS PayPal and MasterCard to avenge Wikileaks and provide some retribution for Julian Assange. The FCC attack isn’t the first time they’ve come after an entity for having means involving the idea of censorship.

Kairos is the discovery of the right place and time for an argument. It’s how the writer, or in this scenario, the hacker made the most of the moment. Anonymous’ kairos was the operation that DDoSed the FCC website on May 8, 2017, which rendered the FCC’s net neutrality comments system unserviceable. Anonymous knew the intention behind the FCC’s wishes to overturn the legislative order, and they felt it appropriate to send a message.

Message received.

The FCC publicly claims that its systems were not hacked, but the site was flooded with traffic from external actors.

Although Anonymous’ preferred form of digital activism is inherently illegal, their DDoS attacks proved to be useful in fighting for net neutrality and against censorship ideas. A lot of people are joining the coalition of activists and consumer groups banding together expressing concerns over the FCC proposal to rewrite the rules of free-internet. The FCC has to answer to Congress, and Congress must acknowledge the people, their constituents.