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Anonymous, India and the Blackhat Spectacle: Oxblood Ruffin

June 7, 2012

Guest post by OXBLOOD RUFFIN

If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.
— Justice Louis D. Brandeis, Whitney v. California

Any discussion of Anonymous is problematic. One is never sure which Anonymous is being referenced: the meme, the group as a whole, or an individual operation. And the press doesn’t appear to know or care. It has gone into a rapturous fap over the loose knit collective, declaring them, inter alia, the most influential group in the world, terrorists, and – wait for it – very dangerous hackers. This last descriptor is particularly amusing. There are, in fact, so few real hackers within Anonymous that they could petition the U.N. as an endangered species.

Anonymous (the group) has exaggerated its technical abilities much like men in bars exaggerate their sexual prowess, with the press playing the role of gullible mark. One case in point is Operation Payback. In December 2010 Anonymous was enraged that Wikileaks donations were cut by Paypal over terms of service violations. 4500 volunteers were recruited to download a faulty attack tool intended to shut Web access to the site. It didn’t work. When this was discovered one Anonymous hacker aimed his botnet at Paypal and took it offline almost immediately. The supporters were not so lucky. Anonymous deliberately exaggerated the safety of the attack tool to its hapless allies. Many were arrested.

Anonymous is a public relations pandemic with an exaggeration problem, not a treacherous horde. It’s time the press learned the difference.

The collective also has an odd understanding of Web censorship. Anonymous claims to be fighting for Internet freedom but doesn’t care much for free speech. If an individual or organization says or does something the freedom fighters don’t like, websites are defaced or subjected to DDoS  attacks. Never mind that free speech and access to information are basic human rights and the cornerstones of democracy. Digital vigilantism is Anonymous’ modus operandi. In the Blackhat world – the underlying ethos of the collective – it’s tit for tat. If you do something to me, or one of my friends, I’ll do something to you. Tribal justice for the twenty-first century.

Apologists for the Shut Uppa You Face, I’m Not Like What You Say approach see things differently. This isn’t censorship, it’s civil disobedience. Non-violence, Gandhiji, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are shuffled into the deck and dealt out as trump cards. The only problem with this argument is that it doesn’t quite work. The moral underpinnings and practice of nonviolent civil disobedience – from Tolstoy to Tibetan resistance – are based on physical presence. Break an unjust law, be arrested, put a strain on the system, have one’s day in court, argue for justice, sway public opinion. That is civil disobedience; not hiding behind a firewall as a casual vandal. The Occupy movement knows what civil disobedience is. Anonymous does not.

While it’s easy to pillory Anonymous, fairness demands that it be praised when it has acted well. Operation Leakspin and ventures in support of Arab Spring are cases in point. Leakspin was an investigative project encouraging people to analyze Wikileaks cables and post videos of research onto YouTube. Arab Spring operations partnered with democracy activists on the ground and trained novices in best practices online, and set up proxy servers. A difference was made and participating Anons deserve a pat on the back for these actions. It should also be noted that mainstream media coverage of these operations was rather thin. Productive work from the computer underground usually gets a pass.

And then there is Anonymous India.

These bad boys have clearly gotten the Indian press in a tizzy. Anonymous! In India?!? We done has better write about this shizzle, NOW. Indian Anons were probably involved in offshore operations before setting up shop in India. The group first grabbed headlines in support of anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare. Websites were defaced, DDoSing was done, lulz were had. Although there was a slight difference in their behaviour from other Anonymous cadres. In June 2011, Anonymous India faced sharp public criticism over its attack of an Indian army website. After internal discussion, even much disagreement, consensus was reached. Anonymous India announced through its then Twitter page that the army and government websites were off limits. If only.

Anonymous India and Why This Kolaveri di have two things in common. Both have achieved their fame through the Internet. And both are engagingly superficial. While it’s easy to take cheap shots, there’s nothing funny about Anonymous India’s motivations. The group’s recent spate of Web defacements, DDoS attacks, and data theft are in response to a Madras High Court order. The order directs ISPs to block hundreds of websites in an attempt to prevent pirated copies of one particular film. Anonymous India has made a number of demands to the government which clearly won’t be met. Cybercrime – and acts of what some hysterical officials are calling cyberterrorism – as a bargaining tool is a non-starter with government officials. So what to do?

On June 9th Anonymous has organized a series of protests throughout India to protest the 2011 IT Act that enabled the Madras High Court order. Doubtless, people will show up. The IT Act has been a finger in India’s eye ever since it was passed. But can Anonymous India get the job done? The simple answer is no. The Indian government won’t listen to a single word they say. In fact, Anonymous India has given authorities ammunition to tighten up the IT Act even further in response to their actions. Getting press can be good for the ego but it can set back the objective. I doubt Anonymous India has any interest in my opinion, but here it is.

Anonymous India has proved that it can muster support and organize. The June 9th protests are  proof of that. Funnelling committed activists into any number of well-positioned civil society organizations could make a serious difference. Many of these NGOs are reaching out to parliamentarians and bureaucrats. These same groups have highly competent lawyers to mount legal challenges to the IT Act. It’s one thing to make a quick splash with the press. It’s quite another to be strategic and leverage momentum in a direction the system can’t ignore. Change does not happen overnight, but it can happen over time and with significant results. Anonymous India doesn’t have to enter the system. However, it can influence it from without. And also be aware of this.

Indian Anons can continue their hacking spree. They can also be arrested. One shouldn’t allow youthful hubris to enable denial. The history of Anonymous is littered with fractured lives who’ve had to deal with huge fines and lengthy jail sentences. The Lulzsec  crew, Anonymous’ most iconic hackers have all been collared but one. Sabu, its ring leader, was doxed  by an American housewife. Kayla, the most anonymous of the lot was picked up by law enforcement. Being found out is not so difficult for anyone who is not a pure Blackhat, which I seriously doubt any of the Indian team is. The Internet doesn’t forget footprints.

Anonymous India can be part of the solution, or part of the arrest warrant.

(Oxblood Ruffin is a member of the Cult of the Dead Cow publishing and hacktivist collective. Follow @OxbloodRuffin on Twitter.)

16 Comments leave one →
  1. June 8, 2012 12:28 AM

    Anonymous has sent across a response to the post above:

    Dear India and people of the World,
    We are Anonymous. An article by Oxblood Ruffin has come to our attention. It is an uncomfortable read for many of us. It points to the dangers and disadvantages for Anonymous India in particular with what seems to be a somewhat researched, if selective view of Anonymous. Clearly, we have, somehow stepped on this person’s metaphorical toes, and we are being shoved off very categorically.

    At the outset, we would like to state that we asked members of Operation India extensively and no one is able to recall giving Ruffin an interview or any kind of information. His description of Operation India is not something that any of us were able to relate with. That he predicted it can be our ignorance, or simply a way of covering the fact that he published fiction. We do not, and cannot defend against anything he said, for the simple reason that Anonymous being comprised of individuals, all kinds of things are possible, and it is absolutely impossible to defend or assert any view as “the truth” of Anonymous, including his. Anonymous doesn’t have a fixed ideology. Anyone, everyone can be Anonymous.

    We would like to address several things he says and present alternative views, however quixotic they may seem to him. The blog he published his article on, was among the first to lead the lampoon brigade when Kapil Sibal had wanted prescreening. #IdiotKapilSibal is a tag most Twitter Indians will not forget in a hurry. It is possible to say that this was counterproductive and provided more incentive to tighten censorship, but some things are important to be done regardless for consequences. It is possible to argue that the tag and the various kinds of content it invited are not illegal, and be wrong in doing it, because defamation was most certainly a part of the tag, including many insulting and factually impossible descriptions of the man. This is not to criticize the tag at all – we enjoyed it thoroughly too, but to point out an example that didn’t piss him off so much as us.

    Possibly by people he is willing to see as human and be able to see us as real people instead of a pest control problem.

    The IT Rules now active India, could allow us to ask for his article to be taken down by Kafila, for example. Also he would have no rights to object about the same. We would never do this, but the roots of the vigilantism he objects to have been seeded by the government at its convenience. We are creating our own ones. We are fighting for free speech on internet. We are also indirectly fighting for him so that he can write such article in future and post them over few blogs without any censorship.

    About Anonymous India and the protests, we fail to see how Occupy India is not the real thing and Occupy Wall Street is, seeing as how they are protests on the ground against Internet Censorship. We do feel gratified about his certainty that people will attend, because we admit to feeling anxious that they do go off well.

    About the very dramatic question “Can Anonymous get the job done?”, which he answers with “No”, we would like to propose a modest “It remains to be seen”. Just as a measure of what he considers “getting the job done”, we would appreciate him providing examples of anything being able to get the job done when it comes to the Indian government’s efforts at censorship, because while his question sounds dramatic, in our awareness there isn’t much success by other people or organizations either, including the blog he is writing on, which has got years of sustained efforts in its archives. Does that mean those efforts should not have been made? He has his idea of what will work, we have ours. There is no proof either way, though overall observations do point to using power to force results working better than protests in India.

    We would also like to ask him before this movement how many Indians knew they were victims of internet censorship? Government was secretly imposing censorship through ISPs with more than 400 content filter requests made to Google. He says we can’t change anything. We say we’ve educated the people about the wrong doings of the government already and more is going to happen. They will see how their elected government is taking away their freedom of speech, freedom of expression and privacy in the same of censorship.

    We object to the idea that we recklessly endanger people. We ensure and remind that people be safe. People who do not feel confident enough to try anything are never forced, required or rolemodeled into doing it. Evaluations of competences are something we think are subjective. About the dire warnings on risks, it would be interesting if the author provided information on who and how many of these incompetent hackers of India got caught when they supported Team Anna. Either the hackers are good, or public money is being spent on cyber security that cannot catch n00bs.

    So far, so good. We walked in with our eyes wide open. We know the price attached to our actions. We also know that non-hacker Anonymous could be victimized by the government if they get found, simply because that is what our government does well.

    It is utterly ridiculous to believe any claims he makes about “how many Indians” are in Anonmous considering that it is impossible to know the nationality of a person using a nick and operating anonymously with any reliability to claim numbers. There seems to be a certain amount of contempt for the skills of Indians with hacking, which we don’t agree with, seeing as how Indians are a considerable force in the software and coding world. In any case, we don’t have to be up to his standards. All we have to be is better than the people trying to catch us, who are also Indian and I suppose equally incompetent? Or is it just Anonymous Indians who are incompetent?

    Further disinformation in the article is worth addressing in terms of electronic prints. It is not entirely true in the way the implication is made. If a server does not log access, nothing can retrieve access details from it. Other ways will have to be deployed, but most of them will not work post facto. For example.

    In many of our interviews, the question keeps coming up. “Can there be one right thing?” and the inevitable answer is no. There are differences of opinion, there are differences of fundamental objectives, there are differences in what is considered an appropriate protest. We know and accept that our methods may not be acceptable to all. We have many supporters who will not involve themselves with attacking websites, yet are leading in helping us protest in other ways without breaking laws. To some, the sin of continuing with ineffective protests may be worse than breaking laws shielding the guilty. Vigilantism? Sure. No less than the blocks by Reliance, or police attacks on protesters all over the country. No less than what will happen to us if we get caught – whether anything can be proved or not.

    Surprisingly, these aspects find no acknowledgment in this article – a fact that again, anyone can walk onto the IRC at any time they think they can find us unawares and verify at their discretion without even letting us know. Facebook pages of protests are made by people with real accounts. Permissions are applied by real people in person with the police. This too is easy to verify, if any actual research had been done for this article instead of resorting to canned generalizations. The hacking may be behind a firewall, but it would be superficial to claim that the operation itself is fake or without any ownership in the real world.

    Our view is that people who think it can’t be done should not stand in the way of people doing it, just as we do not think a protest is less valid because it doesn’t strong arm the government into compliance. “Anonymous India can be part of the solution or it can be part of the arrest warrant” – Some risks are worth taking. A solution helps our country, the arrest warrant is limited to individuals. They can arrest an individual, they cannot.

    Signed,

    Anonymous.

    We are Anonymous

    We are legion

    We do not forgive

    We do not forget

    Expect us!

  2. Sumedha V Ojha permalink
    June 8, 2012 11:47 AM

    While I find myself in agreement with many of the stated objectives of Anonymous, hiding behind unidentified internet identities smacks of cowardice. Civil disobedience is not and was never done hiding behind assumed identities. I am an Indian with a stake in Internet freedom but find myself in opposition to this strategy of hide, hit, deface according to the sweet will of ‘Anonymous’ Why don’t you come out in the open? The fight for truth does not need to hide.

  3. Oxblood Ruffin permalink
    June 8, 2012 1:06 PM

    Dear Anonymous India,

    There are as many viewpoints on Anonymous as there are eyeballs. I have mine, you have yours, the chai wallah has his. So to the extent that there are no facts, only interpretations, I’m comfortable with being subjective.

    To be clear, I don’t feel offended or threatened by you if that’s what you mean by having stepped on my “metaphorical toes”. I’d also suggest that you reread the article that I wrote. When I used the word Anonymous I mean the group as a whole; when I wrote Anonymous India, I meant Anonymous India.

    I’ve been familiar with Anonymous before they were Anonymous. /b/ anyone? And as you know, or should know, Anonymous has gone through a number of iterations. Anonymous India is a particularly interesting flavour. Like Anonymous as a whole it is particularly good at appropriating things, like an entire country and the Occupy movement.

    Anonymous India? Oh, you mean like Anonymous England or Anonymous Belize [none of which exist, BTW]? Why bother with individual ops when you can grab the entire nation. And Occupy? Are you even aware of what that is? Anonymous [everywhere] is one thing, Occupy [everywhere] is another. They are discrete, not one and the same.

    Here, for your edification is the first sentence of the Wikipedia article on the Occupy movement. “The Occupy movement is an international protest movement against alleged social and economic inequality, its primary goal being to make the economic structure and power relations in society more favorable to the underclasses.”

    If Occupy India tries to palm itself off as part of the Occupy movement it will be subjected to international ridicule. A, Occupy folks already have serious issues with Anonymous; B, Occupy is about economics not technology. Although, Occupy India could legitimately get away with saying, “We Are The 99%”. The 1% would represent those who actually understood that Anonymous and Occupy are two separate things.

     I’m also perplexed by your statement that, “… overall observations do point to using power to force results working better than protests in India.” I’m not sure if that means that you’re planning to cancel your protests, or wage cyberwar against the government of India. If it’s the former then there will be a lot of disappointed people; if it’s the latter you’ll get an ass-whupping, not to mention a long bounce in an uncomfortable prison.

    To the question that, “… how many Indians knew they were victims of Internet censorship?” Internet censorship in India has been a topic of interest for at least ten years in academic and policy circles. As for the general public, or more correctly, the 10% of the country that is online, I should imagine that most thoughtful people have been generally aware of Web filtering since the 2011 IT Act was made law. It annoyed a lot of people.

    As to Anonymous India’s technical competence, when I use the term “hacker” I mean a senior-level programmer, network administrator, or security researcher. I don’t mean students. When I use the term “Blackhat” I mean highly skilled cybercriminal. So take your pick. If you fall into the first bucket, well done. If you fall into the second, start raising bail money.

    It’s true, at least as far as I know, that no Indian Anons were arrested in relation to Team Anna support. But neither was that op of particular interest to the government in the larger scheme of things. But I’d be willing to bet that they put you on their radar after the Supreme Court attack. That, IMHO, was a strategic blunder. Two rupee hacks here and there, ho hum. Slapping the government where it lives, big deal. BTW, all of those fit “plain clothes” protesters at your weekend event will be cops.

    I’ve been around long enough to have seen lots of friends and acquaintances go to jail. They thought they were being so clever. Then they were caught. Sometimes through careful police work, but more often because of dumb luck. Remember Sabu? He got doxed by a stay at home mom. Piss off the wrong person and they’ll turn you into their hobby. Have a little respect for the whammy factor guys. And personally, I hope you don’t get arrested. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, at least not for what you’ve done. The courts have a draconian sense of justice where cybercrime is involved.

  4. Roshni Devi permalink
    June 8, 2012 6:48 PM

    Right from the time i first heard of Anonymous’ attacks, though i felt slightly happy about it, i couldn’t understand what they achieved from it. By bringing down paypal, they inconvenienced so many people who probably needed timely monetary help as well. Trying to be heroes is one thing, and causing others trouble in the name of the same is another.

    If they did want to hack, couldn’t they have changed to system to allow contributions to WikiLeaks or something similar? Though i *really really* applaud their bravery, i wonder if they have a plan to do something more productive.

  5. June 9, 2012 1:54 AM

    @ Oxblood
    Im a little surprised you have gotten yourself in a twist over the technicalities of ‘Occupy’ vs. ‘Anonymous.’ Occupy is a new name for an old method, and as such has become a catch-all catch phrase for all protest movements. There’s occupy-everything now.

    The event in India is called Occupy but the Posterous page that directed me to it is called Operation India, from Anonymous. But it need not be an official Anonymous page either, neither do the 2 events on Facebook.. since as you rightly pointed out, there are way too many a/A-nonymous pages on the internet. So the India event can be an Occupy-Anonymous event.

    Since Occupy is now a phrase used for all protests, frivolous or serious- sort of like, “Aage bado” “Delhi chalo” “Down down corruption” etc, whatever- I dont know what an Occupy-Anonymous is, or what this version of Anonymous is, or what “Occupy India on account of its internet rules” means.” It could be that these guys are going for, “Lets Occupy India by Anonymous methods and… if there are any more buzz words, lets use that also, maybe we will trend on Twitter with one of those words.”

    But it doesnt seem like these technicalities matter. To someone who has followed the Occupy protests, and been hopeful for it, we may give a damn (I’ll add that I feel for what youre saying). But why are you harping on it when it doesnt seem to matter to Anonymous’ larger cause? They have already indicated their loftier larger intentions, in their rhetoric above.

    You said in the beginning of your post that Anonymous can refer to “the meme, the group as a whole, or an individual operation.” Ill add that it can also refer to only the method/ tactic. And thus, how I have made sense of this mess of an event in India (really, the Facebook event pages are such a mess. But maybe this is what Anonymous events are supposed to be like?) that its -a- protest that is using Anonymous methods to achieve its aim. The methods are being used at least in spirit, if not in letter. And this is what its going to be like at tomorrow’s event.

    • Oxblood Ruffin permalink
      June 9, 2012 12:55 PM

      Hi Mickey, thanks for your comments.

      I have several issues with Anonymous India saying that it is also the Occupy movement. 1, these two groups have always been separate; 2, it lacks candor in advertising; 3, I believe it’s disrespectful to the Occupy movement as a whole; 4, it even contradicts the traditions of Anonymous.

      Outside of the computer underground the first time the general public heard of Anonymous was through Project Chanology, the group’s international street protest against the Church of Scientology, the first time Anonymous signature Guy Fawkes mask was seen, and the first time – in spite of much internal opposition – that Anonymous moved from the digital domain to meatspace. It also marks the first time Anonymous did something construed as being “serious”. Previously Anonymous was only motivated by lulz, schadenfreude, or vicious personal humiliation. Take your pick.

      Even from a branding perspective I think it’s misguided. Is this Anonymous, or Occupy, or some new creature? It reminds me of the Greek diner skit on Saturday Night Live where the waiters say, there’s no Coke, only Pepsi, same thing. They’re not. So why bother with appropriating a name if it doesn’t fit? And I also know from a marketing viewpoint that it’s easier to sell one thing than two.

      I’m also rather curious as to how things will pan out on the street. Will a spokesperson speak on behalf or in support of Anonymous? Will it be a Situationist International-style spectacle? How will it be followed up? Maybe Anonymous India has a strategic vision for attempting to achieve its goals, but if it does no one appears to know what that is.

      It’s easy to look at Anonymous/India and see it’s place on the political spectrum: radical, not particularly caring about legalities, and unwilling to partner with civil society organizations. Maybe it’s the Malcolm X. strategy. Ossie Davis once asked Malcolm why he was so radical. “So they will give Martin [Luther King, Jr.] whatever he wants.” So within the realm of political discourse radicals have their place and function. And it’s not like Anonymous India is alone in it’s opposition to the IT Act. It’s been annoying anyone in the country who’s online and bothered to think about it.

      Maybe the protests will kickstart something wider or maybe they’ll flame out. We’ll know by Sunday.

  6. ravi permalink
    June 9, 2012 3:36 PM

    If there are issues with court orders that block access to websites irrespective of their contents then fight it legally.Let there be Public Interest Litigation and cases against the order by those who are affected by you. For example if an open source project is affected
    by such orders then they can go to court to challenge it and check whether such orders by different high courts stand the test of law.While campaigning for changing the rules is fine the legal strategies like cases, public interest litigation should be pursued simultaneously Mere campaigning wont do wonders I am wondering as to why organizations like Alt Law Forum have not approached Supreme Court taking this issue as a public interest litigation.

  7. ravi permalink
    June 9, 2012 3:39 PM

    The problem with adventurism in the net is that not many consider that as a pure or preferred form of activism. Protesting in public places has legitimacy while taking down sites or hacking sites does not enjoy the same legitimacy, both legally and morally. They often end up examples for technical capability than anything else.

  8. Oxblood Ruffin permalink
    June 9, 2012 4:37 PM

    @todayinthebigcity

    Thanks for you comments. Something just struck me. Regardless of my issues of Anonymous India labeling their protest #Occupy it cannot legitimately use the term.

    Students “occupy” university buildings, often called “sit-ins”; labor unions “occupy” corporate offices and refuse to budge; civil rights activists “occupy” public space; and, the Occupy movement itself will “occupy” public parks, usually by camping in tents.

    There is a fundamental difference between protesting and occupying. Protesters march, wave signs, chant demands, and then they go home. Groups that occupy actually do what they say. They appropriate space and stay there until their demands are met or they are arrested.

    Abraham Lincoln put it well. ““If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a horse have? Four, calling a tail a leg does not make it a leg”. Anonymous India can call their protest anything they want. But if they do not actually occupy/remain at the protest site, they are only protesting.

  9. Ameya Naik permalink
    June 15, 2012 9:34 PM

    In answer to your question: “So, what to do?”

    My opinion: This is where a PIL could actually work.

    Prove the IT Act, in its current form, violates Art. 19 Freedom of Speech guarantees.

    Alternately, prove that particular admininstrative or judicial actions – e.g. the Madras High Court judgment – have this effect, and have them reversed (building up precedent to always have them reversed, until guidelines are issued that clarify such things are NOT proper interpretations of the Act).

    My question: Can this be done while bypassing the question of who exactly is responsible for content placed online?
    Because that’s not a controversy we’re resolving any time soon. And frankly – as users, currently we benefit from the grey area more than any determination that places even part of the responsibility on ISPs, search engines, hosting servers etc.

Trackbacks

  1. Open Letter from Anonymous to the Government of India « Kafila
  2. India: Netizens Respond To Anonymous India’s Protests · Global Voices
  3. India: Netizens Respond To Anonymous India’s Protests – Global Voices Online » Eye On Occupy
  4. India: Netizens Respond To Anonymous India’s Protests – Global Voices Online » Eye On Occupy
  5. India: Netizens Respond To Anonymous India’s Protests | Orissa Online Portal

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