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The Risks of Shadowy Hacktivists Stealing Secret Data

Alex Benesch
July 13, 2011

We love to believe in what can be adequately called the “Star Wars analogy”: A small tight-knit, highly moral and motivated rag tag band of rebels takes on the Empire and finally blows up the entire death star after finding a tiny weak spot in the enemy’s armor. Anybody who has ever tried to run his own “rebel” organisation will know that life isn’t quite like the movies.

Wikileaks, Anonymous, LulzSec and others seemed and still sometimes seem like a dream come true, they steal secret data from the Pentagon, defense contractors, cults and other nefarious organisations. Is this the next generation of the infowar or mostly movie magic? The proof is usually in the pudding – meaning the documents themselves – but the sheer amount of secrecy and obfuscation can easily mask a bigger picture.

Anonymous means no transparency

Anonymous and Wikileaks for a long time cultivated a gimmick which the entertainment industry dubs a “mystery box”. As long as we don’t know the exact contents of that box and we’re only being given clues and exaggerated claims, we are intrigued. It was always going to be disappointing to finally find out who killed Laura Palmer, it was much more interesting to keep guessing and wonder. In the music business the record company is happy when the audience recognizes not only a song but also the name of the band and a face or some other imagery. One of the major goals of many current hacker groups is to establish a recognizable branding. Anonymous is riding the coattails of the Warner Brothers movie V for Vendetta, where the mysterious hero who hides under a cloak and a Guy Fawkes mask uses all means available to topple a cruel dictatorship. The problem is, Fawkes was apparently a dupe who played into the hands of the aristocracy with his outrageous gunpowder plot. Historian Webster Tarpley explains this in depth:

“…set up a fake plot, stock it full of Catholics, fanatics, dupes, and their own double agents, and then pin that on the Vatican, pin it on the Pope, pin it on the Jesuits. And use that to get decades of absolute hysteria. And of course, allow them to cement their police state.”

It is actually misleading to treat Anonymous as a coherent organisation when anybody with the skills to break into other peoples’ systems can grab some imagery of a Guy Fawkes mask and use the terminology (“We are Legion”, “Expect us”, blah, blah) I myself will probably have to use a term like “hackers using the Anonymous banner” in the future, just to clarify that we are dealing with muddy waters.

The protection offered by being anonymous and a moving target is a questionable sword that cuts both ways: Often the members don’t even really know each other well which makes them easy prey for infiltration and false flag cyber attacks. It is forgivable if an organisation puffs itself up to a degree in order to appear more impressive and to bluff opponents, but Wikileaks for example came under a lot of fire for their absurd claims about their own size, competence in judging material and security measures. For the longest time it was 2 people and an old server, not the much heralded hundreds of dedicated workers and hundreds more of volunteers. The consumer grade protection was always a far cry from what they promised sources. Even when the mysterious German programmer called “architect” joined the team, they still suffered from the dilemma of not even really knowing each other. Assange for example had worked with Australien state police in the 1990s to “catch child pornographers” according to court documents obtained by The Age. The problem with this official version is that this assistance to police fell right between his arrest for serious hacking 1991 and his incredibly mild sentence in 1996. Did his Wikileaks colleagues know all that when they joined? Did they know that 25% of hackers are informants?

Cyberwar-units could easily carry out an attack against the population and pin it on Anonymous. Who is going to defend the group when nobody really knows who belongs to it in the first place? The military could easily create a fictitious cyber Bin Laden from whole cloth, just because everything is so darn intransparent. We like to believe hackers who carry out politically motivated attacks are modern age knights in shiny armors, cool Matrix-like superheroes. The reality it is much more complex. Many hackers steal Credit Card data from average hardworking citizens just to pay their own bills or even enjoy some luxury. Are the hacktivists really sparkling clean? How can we know if they are phantoms? How can we be sure they are not doing the dirty work for evil groups, with or without knowing? Many politically motivated hackers claim moral superiority and demand transparency from others while they often act just like their targets. John Young from Cryptome said it best:
“Egotistical, bumbling, lack of transparency, exaggerated assurances of confidentiality, obscurity about internal affairs, unverifiable claims and assertions, asymmetry in protection (always the spy’s over the dupes), exaggeration of the importance of information provided, few if any admissions of errors, heroic risks from powerful enemies, and much more. Hyperbolic claims about serving the public and protecting the weak.”

Hackers can succumb to temptation with no oversight

The high and mighty, holier-than-thou hacker might think in a quiet minute:

“Why not make some serious bucks while trashing evil guys? It’s a win-win situation!”

And then he sells documents to the wrong people or targets specific organisations over others. While overlooking the bigger picture the potential damage that can be caused is enormous. When you read the musings of hackers you often discover quotes and other references to the film Fight Club. In that movie the protagonist tries every wrong thing under the sun to get his life right: He demands heavy pills from his doctor, he flirts with esoteric mind-numbing mumbo-jumbo, he enjoys pointless self-destruction and then he moves over to loose-cannon-terrorism against everything corporate. The infantile idea – explained by the character Tyler Durden – is to simply wreck everything and then enjoy life in the utopian new world without commercial products and government structures. Only when this scheme goes too far the main protagonist does the right thing for the first time – he takes responsibility. Many hackers and film fans think they get this clever film – but they don’t, they are forever stuck in act number 2. Who can forget the following leaked internal email from Wikileaks:

“We are going to fuck them all. Chinese mostly, but not entirely a feint. Invention abounds. Lies, twists and distorts everywhere needed for protection. Hackers monitor chinese and other intel as they burrow into their targets, when they pull, so do we. Inxhaustible supply of material. Near 100,000 documents/emails a day. We’re going to crack the world open and let it flower into something new. If fleecing the CIA will assist us, then fleece we will. We have pullbacks from NED, CFR, Freedomhouse and other CIA teats. We have all of pre 2005 afghanistan. Almost all of india fed. Half a dozen foreign ministries. Dozens of political parties and consulates, worldbank, apec, UN sections, trade groups, tibet and fulan dafa associations and… russian phishing mafia who pull data everywhere. We’re drowing. We don’t even know a tenth of what we have or who it belongs to. We stopped storing it at 1Tb.”

Did Wikileaks indeed sell stolen data to the CIA and the Mossad as investigative journalist Wayne Madsen’s sources claimed? Did they sell exclusive early access to the war logs and cablegate to the mainstream media like John Young’s sources claimed? Did Wikileaks knowingly or unknowingly target banks that are in competition to George Soros?

Hackers often lack basic knowledge about politics and history

The more you read into how little many hackers think or actually know about history and politics the SCARIER it gets. Just like it takes years of hard work to learn how to crack it takes years of hard work to grasp how the real world works. We have seen many young gifted hackers who don’t know the first thing about the military industrial complex and after 9/11 they thought they needed to protect the government’s systems against evil terrorists.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg, the German hacktivist who used to be number 2 at Wikileaks until he fled from Stalin… I mean Assange, calls a book by one of the early influential and absolutely braindead French socialists “the most important book ever written”. At no point in Domscheit-Bergs published account “Inside Wikileaks” do you get the idea that anybody actually read any good books on politics and history. They were simply too busy dressing up as old women to throw off alleged observers, giving press conferences, collecting MONEY, programmming stuff and getting on each others nerves.

Whenever Assange opens his mouth on politics it is downright hysterical. He said in an interview that Cablegate will forment peace in the middle east even though the data blames the enemeis of the US, he expected to “end wars” but his actions had quite the opposite effect.

He and many others cannot adequately understand material they have stolen or that is handed to them. When they were given stuff like an infamous field manual that contained advice on false flag terror, Domscheit-Berg just skimmed through it, saw that it was a scary looking document and checked Google for 10 minutes. That’s how DDB describes the “validation process” in his own book!
They can easily fall for phony and doctored material. According to DDB they only transferred the Afghan war databases into an easily accessible format and then handed the material over to the mainstream media who had a field day reporting the giant whitewash about a mere 100.000 dead in Iraq since 2003, no US torture, Iran’s and Pakistan’s meddling and so on. Whoever thinks the reporting of the NY Times, der SPIEGEL and the Guardian was a victory against the military industrial complex needs his head checked. Those papers were always leading in war propaganda and they have already stabbed Wikileaks in the back.

Some hackers also have shown they feel it to be their “right” to attack virtually anybody they please, especially anybody who criticizes them or Assange. They might well attack honest people they falsely perceive as rightwing or anti-America or neocon. Hackers aren’t so cool anymore when you are the target.

Hackers forfeit constitutional and other protections

By acting outside of the law or in dark grey areas, they are making themselves and their organisations very vulnerable. Big time criminals understand how to protect themselves, they don’t get their hands dirty and delegate tasks to underlings whom they tightly control. Good old fashioned violence can maintain order and punish disloyalty. Most of the time, police cannot even touch high organised crime figures because the mobsters pay for the best lawyers, pay off politicians and the police and generally know how to hide behind obfuscation and how to launder money. Hackers don’t come close to that level of power. They usually just keep going and going until the FBI or the Secret Service is literally standing in their bedroom with a warant in hand. If hackers get into a big argument or punish perceived disloyalty they usually attack each other through the internet or by ratting each other out to the authorities. Reportedly a quarter of all serious hackers are informants, the military industrial complex plays for keeps and thinks that recruiting the top guys “for the war on terror” is cheaper than a modern fighter plane.

Hackers don’t do media

They might have Twitter accounts and blogs and give interviews from time to time. They might also claim, like Wikileaks, that they are journalists – but they are not. They steal huge databases and have a hard time understanding them or even just reading every page.

To do real media one needs experience, personnel and money. Hackers usually don’t have the resorces and they need to lay low so to not get caught. They love to deride the mainstream media but for publicity they need them dearly. If it’s not reported it’s almost like it didn’t happen. Wikileaks repeatedly called the mainstream media obsolete but as soon as they had the Bradley Manning files they ran to the worst globalist rags like the NY Times, Der Spiegel and The Guardian. Even though the papers used the war logs to whitewash what has happened and to beat the drums for more war, Assange declared himself to be happy in a Time Magazine interview and, sitting on his high horse, explained that only his “professional media partners” could have pulled this off. The blogger scene was just there to comment:

“The bulk of the heavy lifting — heavy analytical lifting — that is done with our materials is done by us, and is done by professional journalists we work with and by professional human-rights activists. It is not done by the broader community.”,8599,2034040-3,00.html

Only when the media came after Assange personally the relationship turned hostile.

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