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100 Years Worth of Federal Prison Charges for Alleged 'Hactivist'?

The federal government is on a rampage to punish Anonymous-style hackers.

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As Tim Rogers describes it:

Until Anonymous came along, botnets were generally assembled by bad guys, organizations like the Russian mafia, Chinese hackers. They build botnets on the sly, installing malware on computers that turns them into zombies without their owners’ knowledge. Each zombie can fire thousands of requests per second at a target website. So while you’re working on that cover sheet for your TPS report, your computer is part of a joint effort to overwhelm a company’s server and crash its website. That effort to crash a site is called a Distributed Denial of Service attack, or DDoS. The bad guys use DDoS attacks to extort money, but they can also use their botnets to send spam and steal people’s identities. In 2009, the antivirus software firm Symantec said it had detected nearly 7 million botnets on the internet [sic].

Anonymous was the first group to build an operational voluntary botnet. By running the LOIC on your computer, you are, essentially, declaring your allegiance to Anonymous. You donate part of your computer’s processing power to the cause. That cause—or, if you prefer, the target—is determined by rough consensus among Anons.

On December 8, 2010, Anonymous’s LOIC targeted the websites of MasterCard and Visa, crashing both within minutes. Although it’s impossible to pinpoint how many people were in on Operation Payback, sources familiar with the attack say the LOIC was downloaded tens of thousands of times. With the media clamoring for answers, and Gregg Housh’s name already in the public domain, he did just short of 40 interviews within two days.

Housh had become familiar with Brown earlier in February of 2010, after Brown published a piece on the Huffington Post defending the actions of Anonymous members against the government of Australia during so-called “Operation Titstorm.” The Australian government had been attempting to ban certain forms of Internet pornography and to institute a filtering regime with which all web-hosting and search services would have to comply. In addition to the banned material, a leaked version of the proposed blacklist showed sites that had no relation to adult content. Web titans like Yahoo! and Google were against the measure. And Anonymous saw it as threatening to free speech.

While clearly supportive of the work of Anonymous, Brown’s piece was the most accurate media account of the group’s structure, aims and methods at the time:

Ten years ago it would have been infeasible for tens of thousands of individuals with no physical connection or central leadership to conceive, announce, and implement a massive act of civil disobedience against a significant Western power, crippling a portion of its online infrastructure in the process – and to do all of this in a matter of days, and without anyone involved having to contend with the tear-gas-and-horseback response with which states have traditionally been in the habit of contending with mass action. But such a thing as this is happening today, and having been done once will almost certainly be done again – repeatedly, increasingly, and with potentially significant consequences for the nation-state and implications regarding that which will perhaps someday come to replace it.

Anonymous’ current campaign is the second of its kind; the first, in 2008, targeted the Church of Scientology with DDOS attacks, a series of in-the-flesh protests outside Scientology centers worldwide, the theft and dissemination of sensitive documents, and a variety of other steps – all coordinated, or not, in a decentralized fashion that provides for no names, ranks, or central direction.

Housh was impressed with Brown’s assessment of Anonymous and called him up. Before then, “[Brown] wasn’t on any of our IRC’s, he wasn’t hanging out with Anons, he wasn’t ‘one of us,’” Housh notes. But still, Barrett Brown got it. Brown was able to take the heat off Housh, and eventually assumed Housh’s position as a media “spokesman” for Anonymous.