Snowden Docs Show GCHQ Tried To DDoS Anonymous
from the picking-the-wrong-target dept
The latest Snowden revelation is just bizarre. According to a new report at NBC (with help from Glenn Greenwald), UK spies at GCHQ decided to mount a DDoS attack against Anonymous and Lulzsec.
The documents, from a PowerPoint presentation prepared for a 2012 NSA conference called SIGDEV, show that the unit known as the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group, or JTRIG, boasted of using the DDOS attack – which it dubbed Rolling Thunder — and other techniques to scare away 80 percent of the users of Anonymous internet chat rooms.
As the report notes, this seems like incredible overkill. While it’s true that Anonymous had been somewhat successful in DDoSing some websites, for the most part, those were just basic defacements. They were the equivalent of kids messing around with graffiti — hardly the sort of thing you send in the intelligence community to disrupt. Similarly, there are some quite reasonable arguments that the kind of attacks that Anonymous was doing were the equivalent of a sit-in, making them a form of expression.
“Targeting Anonymous and hacktivists amounts to targeting citizens for expressing their political beliefs,” said Gabriella Coleman, an anthropology professor at McGill University and author of an upcoming book about Anonymous. “Some have rallied around the name to engage in digital civil disobedience, but nothing remotely resembling terrorism. The majority of those embrace the idea primarily for ordinary political expression.” Coleman estimated that the number of “Anons” engaged in illegal activity was in the dozens, out of a community of thousands.
NBC News gets former White House cyber security official Jason Healey to point out how ridiculous this kind of attack is:
Jason Healey, a former top White House cyber security official under George W. Bush, called the British government’s DDOS attack on Anonymous “silly,” and said it was a tactic that should only be used against another nation-state.
[….] “This is a slippery slope,” said Healey. “It’s not what you should be doing. It justifies [Anonymous]. Giving them this much attention justifies them and is demeaning to our side.”
Further documents show that GCHQ agents more or less infiltrated Anonymous, trying to buddy up with some key members — and the documents leaked by Snowden show that GCHQ happily explains that the “outcome” of this effort resulted in charges, arrest and conviction against Edward Pearson, who was involved with Anonymous as GZero. Of course, we thought GCHQ was supposed to be focused on non-UK persons. But Pearson is British. The report details a few other UK hackers arrested because of GCHQ spying — including one who notes that in the documents concerning his arrest, it is never detailed how he was found.
What’s not mentioned in the report is that the intelligence community has a history of totally overreacting to Anonymous. Back in 2012, we wrote about NSA boss Keith Alexander’s bizarre attempt to spread FUD by claiming that Anonymous was the equivalent of a terrorist group that might shut down power grids — a move that seems way outside of the kinds of things participants in Anonymous have any interest in. The actions they’ve taken, historically, have been to expose hypocrisy and wrongdoing — not to actually put anyone’s lives in danger. But it seems that kind of overreaction to Anonymous went beyond just the NSA and across the pond to GCHQ, which didn’t just freak out, but actually spent taxpayer funds to launch offensive denial of service attacks on a bunch of mostly innocent teenagers.