May Day hysteria unfounded, say activists

Net activists speak out against May Day panicmongering by security firms
Written by Rachel Munro, Contributor

Internet activists have spoken out today against misinformation they claim is being spread by IT security consultants about possible cyberthreats stemming from Tuesday's May Day protests.

Business development director at security firm MIS Matt Tomlinson warns on one IT Web site that: "groups such as the e-hippie collective, which attacks e-businesses, are boasting around 15,000 members worldwide... Corporates still have a reason to be worried. There's nothing to say groups won't carry out denial-of-service attacks, which are hard to defend against."

But Paul Mobbs, media and technical coordinator for the Electrohippie Collective, said: "We are aware that some IT security consultants have been spreading spurious stories about the electrohippies and a number of actions and events over the next few months. The only thing we know about at the moment is the next WTO meeting in Qatar for November."

A newsletter from corporate security firm iDefense warns: "While last year's May Day protests were marked by a certain degree of Internet organisation and street violence, preparations for protests [this year], have seen far more activity and a growing awareness by activists that the soft underbelly of capitalism lies in corporate Internet infrastructure."

It supports this by quoting from a post on an anti-capitalist bulletin board: "[A] single day of action will not impact on the capitalists' ability to exploit -- the only thing these people understand is the profit margin. Therefore, our best line of attack should be to attack them where it counts most -- economically. The best means to do so is to attack the infrastructure of their electronic systems."

Idefense, unlike MIS, admits that the Electrohippies Collective is not planning to get involved in cyberprotests on this occasion, but alleges that RTMark has been planning a "May Day virus" -- a virus that shuts down computers on May Day, flashing a message about workers' rights and time off.

However, RTMark spokesperson Frank Guerrero said that all that is being planned is a cyberboycott, to be launched on 1 May: "It's not quite as flashy as a virtual sit-in [as staged by the e-hippie collective during the FTAA protests in Quebec], but I think it's even more important."

Another spokesperson for RTMark, Ray Thomas, says: "IDefense seems to be very reliably unreliable, if not hysterical. What they said about the actors in the anti-eToys efforts revealed even more cluelessness -- though they seem to have self-censored that bit of history from their archives."

The last year has seen a surge in hacktivism -- people using virtual methods to promote political and ethical causes, such as GM food protests.

Cofounder of ethical Web consultancy OpenConcept Mike Gifford, who also works on alternative news site rabble.ca, agrees that the Internet gives a new platform to those trying to promote causes: "It has been useful to share resources and information online. Tactics, news, stories, facts and new reports. However corporations are using the same technology with much greater resources at their disposal."

He doesn't believe virtual sit-ins such as that staged by the Electrohippies have much impact, believing that "spoof" sites such as www.gatt.org and www.whirledbank.org are "much more effective forms of protest".

The cyberboycott that Guerrero mentions is aimed at getting people to switch to ISPs such as Thing.Net and to switch DNS to companies such as Name.Space from companies such as Network Solutions which, claims a Name.Space press release, "sells databases to marketers and anyone else who pays".

"By registering a name using the new domain extensions with Name.Space you are also becoming a part of the struggle to preserve free speech and access in an increasingly hostile climate of censorship," says the release.

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