Friday, 24 September 2010

The Invisible War: March of the /b/tards

Here goes an attempt at starting a 'series'. The name 'Invisible War' may be reaching a bit, but sometimes it feels like it is appropriate. There are things developing on the internet that have very interesting ramifications. Perhaps I should say growing, instead of developing, as it seems a rather organic process. Today I would like to talk about the Internet Hate Machine that is 4chan.

For a very long time, the Internet has been growing these places. Usenet and IRC have always been bastions of trolls, flamers, and people you just don't want to get into it with. Offensive tactics often included various attack tools to carry out wars of annoyance against targets. I can very clearly remember the good ol days of IRC, full of skiddies with ICMP "nukers" and takeover scripts etc. As with everything else on the Internet, the Hate Machine grew and changed

4chan has become the penultimate embodiment of this writhing entity., thanks to /b/ . The denizens of 4chan /b/, known as /b/tards are an interesting and complicated 'group'. I user the term 'group' very loosely. /b/ is almost anarchy incarnate, and to assign any real structure to it, would be disingenuous. The /b/tards gave rise to Anonymous and all of the internet grief that particular group has caused. If you don't know, Anonymous is the group that carried out the campaign against the Church of Scientology. They launched site defacements, distributed videos that the church tried to suppress, and even organised real life protests outside of Church of Scientology facilities.  Anonymous began to demonstrate the true power of Internet Crowd sourcing.

Recently, the /b/tards have been on the move again. The news is abuzz with their attacks againsts the MPAA,RIAA, Aiplex Software, and BPI. This is allegedly in direct response to actions taken against the torrent hosting site thepiratebay.org. While not all of the attacks were successful, they have attracted a lot of notice. One has to wonder if that isn't the true aim. What would they accomplish, long term, by bringing down these servers. Even if they brought them down for more than a few hours, they would be brought back up, and actions would be taken to mitigate the attacks. They are not silencing their opposition, so maybe the goal is the opposite. To create a lot of noise. How many people knew about what Aiplex software was getting up to before, and how many know now? The same with ACS:Law? How much longer will the whole piracy issue stay in people's attention now because of these antics?

I do not know if this result was intended, or if the /b/tards are acting out of a much more visceral drive. Given that the average /b/tard is not amongst the highest forms of life on this planet, i would not ascribe much forethought to mot of their actions. /b/ is rather like a horde of rampaging orcs, but like orcs, once they get started they can be surprisingly effective. I find myself pondering the possability of a few dark sorcerers pulling the strings of this unruly horde.  I look at the 'call to arms' for some of these attacks and people start using crappy pe-built skiddie tools a lot of times, that probably have no chance of being truly effective against a serious target. However, if there were a few well hidden masterminds behind the scenes, we see a different picture.

Suppose you are a botherder or malicious hacker with a sinister agenda. You have decided that you can no longer stand the Foo Corp's policies, and want to take them down. You read the reports though, you know even botnets get tracked back to their owners a lot of the time. You need some way to keep the focus off of you. So you go crowd sourcing in /b/ . You whip the /b/tards into a frenzy and they pull out their toys and get ready. some of them undoubtedly know what they are actually doing, and that is even for the better. Now, you give them all a time and date, and everyone launches their attack. The IR Team at Foo Corp all of a sudden sees the deluge hitting their perimeter. While the firewalls and IPs are reflecting most of the useless crap that is being flung at them, you and a few of the more clever blokes, slip right past their perimeter.  Their IPS systems are already screaming at the top of their lungs, so who's to notice? You get in, do your damage, and get out. Meanwhile, the deluge continues. By the time it is all done, the folks at Foo Corp are going to have their hands full tracking back through the logs for quite a while. This means that the chances of anything being tracked back to you is greatly diminshed.

So are the denizens of /b/ the new secret cyber warriors? Is there a core cadre within Anonymous that is using the rest of the /b/ crew as little more than pawns? Are they guided by belief that they are in the right?  There seems to be evidence that at least some of them are waging an information war. They strike at powerful targets who manipulate the system to their advantage. Groups like the Church of Scientology, MPAA, BPI etc, get away with an awful lot, by turning the system to their advantage, and they sue considerable monetary resources and influence to ensure that they always have the advantage. So are groups like Anonymous just turning the tables a bit? Is this the beginnings of digital revolution? Or is it all just a bunch of angry adolescents with nothing better to do?

I don't have the answers to those questions. What I do know, is that this is a sign of things to come. The Internet is becoming more and more concrete. Impact on the net is having more and more tangible impact in the real world. As this trend increases, what is that going to do to the balance of power in our society, with groups like anonymous running around?

For more information on the recent attacks please read:
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/09/24/piracy_threat_lawyers_withstand_ddos/
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/09/20/4chan_ddos_mpaa_riaa/
http://www.sophos.com/blogs/chetw/g/2010/09/19/4chan-takes-mpaa-riaa-aiplex-wins/
http://torrentfreak.com/4chan-ddos-takes-down-mpaa-and-anti-piracy-websites-100918/

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