Hackers question Denial of Service as political protest

The Electrohippies take on Cult of the Dead Cow in hacking legitimacy dispute

A row has broken out between UK Internet activists, the Electrohippies, and US ethical hacking group, Cult of the Dead Cow, over whether Denial of Service attacks are a legitimate form of Internet activism.

The Electrohippies have published a report that claims the recent attacks were a statement against the commercial development of the Internet, and suggests this technique should be developed as a legitimate form of protest on the Net.

"Recent actions on the Internet against e-commerce sites are not a matter of pleasure seeking by bored computer nerds," reads the Electrohippies' message. "They represent a fundamental disagreement about the purposes of the Internet, and the increasing emphasis on the use of the Net as a vehicle for profitable trade, rather than of knowledge and discussion."

OXblood Ruffin, "Foreign Minister" for the hacking group Cult of the Dead Cow, disputes this interpretation of events. He suggests that this is a gross misunderstanding of motivation behind the Denial of Service (DoS) attacks.

"It was irrelevant that the targeted sites were commercial and had e-commerce components," he said in an email statement. "They could just have easily have been the Vatican, a Britney Spears fan site or Aunt Beulah's Jam page -- that is, if those sites represented the same level of prestige and notoriety as the actual targets."

Ruffin went on to criticise this as a means of activism, arguing that there is nothing ethical about this sort of exercise at all: "Denial of Service attacks are a violation of the First Amendment, and of the freedoms of expression and assembly. One does not make a better point in a public forum by shouting down one's opponent."

The Cult of the Dead Cow advocates legal and ethical use of technology for experimental purposes. Last year the group released a remote access application called Back Orifice, which was designed to highlight weaknesses in the security of Microsoft software.

In February, a number of the Internet's most prominent Web sites, including Yahoo!, eBay and CNN were rendered inaccessible by a new form of attack that bombarded these sites with an enormous amount of fake traffic from a number of sources.

In November, the Electrohippies set up a page on their Web site from which visitors could launch mini-Denial of Service attacks on the Web site of the World Trade Centre as part of a protest against global capitalism. At the time, the only effect it had was to bring down the Electrohippies' own Web site, but this has not deterred them from trying to encourage the use of this sort of technique for political protest.

For full coverage, see the Denial of Service roundup.

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