From rdom@thing.net
Date Tue, 19 Oct 1999 08:01:59 -0400

[: hacktivism :]

                    OCTOBER 11, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 15

Wired For Warfare

                    Rebels and dissenters are using the
                    power of the Net to harass and attack
                    their more powerful foes

                    BY TIM MCGIRK/MEXICO CITY

                    In the Chiapas jungles of southern Mexico during
                    the mid-1990s, Zapatista guerrillas--fighting for
                    the rights of Mayan peasants--evolved a new
                    method of conflict: "cyberwar." A mode of battle
                    that involves the Internet and other forms of
                    telecommunication, cyberwar, or Netwar, is
                    employed with increasing frequency by rebels,
                    terrorists and governments around the world. A
                    Netwar can be pure propaganda, recognition that
                    modern conflicts are won as much by capturing
                    headlines as by capturing territory. But a Netwar
                    can have more dangerous applications when
                    computer viruses or electronic jamming are used
                    to disable an enemy's defenses, as both Serb
                    and NATO hackers proved in Kosovo by
                    unleashing barrages of propaganda and
                    attempting to bring down each others'
                    telecommunications systems.

                    When they rebelled in 1994, the poorly armed
                    Zapatistas were no match for the Mexican army
                    in Chiapas. But their spokesman,
                    Subcomandante Marcos, is an agile media
                    manipulator. A renegade college professor who
                    hides his face in a ski mask, Marcos titled his
                    Ph.D. dissertation The Power of the Word. In the
                    battle for public sympathy, he knows his laptop
                    is a more effective weapon than an AK-47
                    Kalashnikov rifle. Using a network of universities,
                    churches and non-governmental organizations
                    (NGOs) in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada--all
                    linked through the Internet--Marcos mobilized
                    international pressure to make the government
                    cease its assaults against the Zapatistas. When
                    the Mexican army declared in December 1994
                    that it had surrounded the 12,000 rebels, Marcos
                    dispatched news that the Zapatistas had slipped
                    out of the trap and conquered dozens of villages.
                    It wasn't true, but according to cyberwar
                    specialists the Zapatistas' disinformation
                    campaign caused enough confusion to help
                    touch off a run on the peso, plunging Mexico into

                    The Zapatistas' tactics also attracted the
                    attention of military strategists. The U.S. Army,
                    for one, sponsored a 1998 study on the group's
                    tactics by the Rand think-tank. "Marcos is not a
                    computer geek," says John Arquilla, a defense
                    information expert at the U.S. Naval
                    Postgraduate School in Monterey and co-author
                    of the Rand report The Zapatista Social Netwar in
                    Mexico. "He's more committed to the idea of info

                    That revolution is spreading. These days missiles
                    are not only tipped with warheads but with video
                    cameras; television and radio deliver war news as
                    it happens; and alleged eyewitness accounts of
                    battles and massacres appear on the Internet,
                    quickly finding their way into other media. What
                    matters in today's combat, says Arquilla, "is
                    whose story wins." Not surprising, then, that 12
                    of the 30 terrorist organizations identified by the
                    U.S. State Department have their own websites.
                    Armies are also entering this digital arena.
                    Sweden's leading military college recently
                    graduated several infowar specialists, and the
                    American military academy West Point is
                    expected to add cybercombat to its curriculum.

                    In Netwar, governments are often at a
                    disadvantage against rebel groups or terrorists.
                    Since they are hierarchies, governments are
                    digital sitting ducks, easy prey for electronic
                    attacks. Groups like the Zapatistas and Burmese
                    dissidents fighting the military regime in
                    Rangoon, on the other hand, use swarms of
                    loosely organized "hacktivists" to strike at
                    governmental computer networks. The hackers
                    strike, then swiftly disperse into cyberspace. The
                    rebels' electronic battle station is seldom inside
                    the country they are targeting, and tracing it back
                    through the Net can be like trying to find the door
                    in a hall of mirrors. The Zapatistas' first
                    for example, were based in the U.S., while
                    Colombia's Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC)
                    guerrillas are in Europe, and Serb Net
                    propagandists relied on sympathizers in Eastern
                    Europe during the Kosovo crisis.

                    One of the most novel weapons in the Zapatistas'
                    digital arsenal is the Electronic Disturbance
                    Theater, which operates out of New York City.
                    These Net activists specialize in virtual sit-ins.
                    Using a JavaScript tool called FloodNet, the
                    group organizes thousands of online protesters to
                    invade a Mexican government website with up to
                    600,000 hits a minute, normally bringing it to a
                    grinding halt. "We're not into blowing people up or
                    hacking sites," says one of the Theater's
                    founders, Ricardo Dominguez. "We just want to
                    create a small force field that will disturb the
                    pace of power." He predicts that soon peasant
                    farmers in Chiapas will be able to protect
                    themselves from assaults by security forces with
                    "wireless video uploads" that can secretly record
                    incidents of police or army brutality and transmit
                    live on the Internet. According to Dominguez, this
                    would enable viewers to circulate the faces and
                    badge numbers of assailants to human rights

                    The art of Netwar is rapidly advancing. Cyberwar
                    is "in its early stages," says the U.S. Naval
                    Postgraduate School's Arquilla, "but it's the
                    harbinger of a new kind of warfare." According to
                    Dorothy Denning, a professor of computer
                    science at Georgetown University, the Kosovo
                    conflict was "the first war fought on the Internet."

                    Air strikes targeted television and radio stations
                    controlled by the Serbs, but NATO deliberately
                    spared the four Internet servers in Yugoslavia
                    from its bombardments. The aim was to let
                    Yugoslavs tap into news on the conflict free from
                    Serb censorship. But this ploy backfired. The
                    Yugoslav government seized control of the
                    servers and used them to pour out pro-Serb
                    propaganda. Their aim, nearly successful, was to
                    weaken the resolve of NATO countries.

                    No challenge to NATO's domination of the skies,
                    the Serbs held their own in the Internet trenches.
                    Serb hackers also used the servers and satellite
                    links left intact by NATO to break into
                    government and industry computers belonging to
                    members of the alliance, disrupting services and
                    defacing websites. NATO hackers did the same
                    to Serb sites. Serb computer experts also lobbed
                    "e-mail bombs" at U.S. government facilities,
                    clogging the systems.

                    Digital sabotage is rife in Asia, too. In the week
                    after the results of East Timor's referendum on
                    independence were announced, the Department
                    of Foreign Affairs received hundreds of e-mail
                    "letter bombs" designed to disable government
                    computers. "Without a firewall, [the e-mail] would
                    have contaminated the system," says a source
                    within the department. In Taiwan and China,
                    supporters and opponents of Taiwan's bid for
                    statehood regularly hack into and deface each
                    other's websites.

                    Some Netwar experts concede the limitations of
                    this kind of combat. Jamming governmental
                    websites may be a nuisance to the Mexicans, for
                    example, but it is unlikely to scare the
                    administration into surrendering to the
                    Zapatistas. Nevertheless, argues Georgetown's
                    Denning, "An electronic petition with a million
                    signatures may influence policy more than an
                    attack that disrupts emergency services."

                    Others, like Zapatista activist Dominguez, view
                    cyberwar as a more civilized alternative to
                    blood-and-guts fighting. "I'd much rather see
                    extremists take down an Internet server than go
                    around killing people," he says. For the
                    Zapatistas, fighting a Netwar may have saved
                    them from extermination, winning the rebels
                    widespread international support. Marcos often
                    compares himself to the cartoon character
                    Speedy Gonzalez. Like this quick-witted mouse,
                    Marcos used the Internet to run rings around his
                    bigger foes. His comrades in other countries may
                    well follow his lead.

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