Encountering 4chan & Anonymous: The legality of DDoS attacks

Some outlets are reporting that Operation Payback, Anonymous' two-month campaign against the forces of copyright, has concluded, while the homepage for the raid claims that the group has simply decided to change tactics in an attempt to legitimize itself.

Either way, it seems like the wave of denial-of-service attacks against targets like the RIAA, Gene Simmons and the U.S. copyright office have come to an end -- at least for now.

As part of my research, I lurked on a number of forums associated with Operation Payback -- I hung out on various IRC channels, and watched threads about the raid on 4chan -- and made some fascinating discoveries: the chat forums were populated by people from all over the world, the attacks consisted mainly of people using various flooding programs (such as the Low Orbit Ion Cannon pictured above) but some anons claimed to be using botnets as well, the sites and servers used by the group were just as likely to be the targets of DoS attacks as they were to wage them, there is no consensus within the community that Operation Payback is the right thing to do, and many users claimed that the raids were their first forays into the world of electronic (civil) disobedience.

However, it's not those findings that I want to talk about today. At the moment, I'm more interested in interrogating the role of DoS attacks in the contemporary political landscape of the internet.

Anonymous has no shortage of detractors. Some claim the group's antics inflame moral panics about online security and lend credence to arguments for tighter control of the internet. Others point out the hypocrisy of advocating free speech while simultaneously taking down a musician's website because of statements he made regarding piracy.

Another Take on the Patent Wars

The patent thicket

Over the past few years, the mobile sector has erupted into a neverending series of lawsuits over intellectual property. The patent trolls are busily combing through lines of code and taking apart every new gadget in the hopes of finding some evidence of infringement. Heck, it's even rumoured that Oracle acquired Java from Sun earlier this principally because it would allow them to aim their litigation cannons at Google.

As the embedded illustration (courtesy of Techdirt) shows, the system is dysfunctional at best and broken at worst. Patents have been issued for the broadest of ideas -- for example, a Canadian court recently recognized Amazon's patent on its "one click" ordering system, thereby suggesting that Amazon created something new and innovative by allowing users to click a button to make a purchase -- and it's led to an environment where companies can engage in patent warfare for fun and profit... OK, mostly profit.

Many are now suggesting that it's time for patent reform. Like all forms of intellectual property, patents are supposed to spur innovation, not bury it under the weight of excessive litigation and enable corporate monoliths to suppress competition.

However, one of the threads that seems to be running through my blog posts here on Metaviews is that many of the arguments around culture and technology -- even the progressive ones -- fail to capture the entire picture. And while I certainly think it's time for a thorough reconsideration of what we consider to be patentable, there's a larger lesson to be learned from all this.