Free Speech At A Price


The series of attacks by crackers on large corporations claim to be in support of free speech.


The WikiLeaks saga continues with crackers making attacks on companies that they consider have been unfair to WikiLeaks.

Denial of Service, DoS, attacks are very easy to mount and demonstrate a fundamental weakness in Internet-connected computer systems. Functionally, all that is required is a relatively simple application that bombards a selected URL with queries until it collapses under the weight of transactions. Once a cracker has written such an application, it is only a matter of distributing it around friends and like-thinkers who will then load the application and bombard the selected URL with yet more queries.

The attacks this week demonstrate the muddled and immature thinking of many crackers. WikiLeaks attracts donations that can run into a significant revenue stream. That suggests that WikiLeaks may be nothing more than a cash generator for a small number of people, rather than a crusader for free speech and freedom of information. By publishing controversial information, the hit rate is increased and with it the volume of donations. In the process WikiLeaks is dependent on the on-line payment systems provided by PayPals and credit/debit card companies. Those companies have chosen to suspend payments to WikiLeaks, exercising their right to freedom of decision making. The crackers attempting to crash the servers operated by these companies are in effect making a denial of freedom attack. Whatever their motivation, the reality is that millions of people around the world are depending the on-line trading systems to buy presents for friends and families at one of the major buying periods of the year. The result is that the crackers are causing inconvenience for the on-line finance system that will only recoup consequential losses by passing the costs on to their customers in higher charges for card services. That means that the crackers are attacking millions of ordinary shoppers twice. First they are disrupting family celebrations. Secondly they are creating the next set of increases in card service charges on millions of people who are struggling at a time of major economic restrictions.

The price of a handful of individuals’ free speech is misery for millions of other individuals.

Whether the object of cracker support is worthy of that expression remains to be seen. His motivation appears to be his ego and his bank balance.

When the Internet started out in the 1960s a major objective was to provide freedom of information exchange between computer systems that wanted to exchange information. Once the international bearers were in place in the early 1990s it became practical to connect virtually any computers, anywhere in the world. That changed the nature of Internet traffic because it provided an extremely low cost commercial marketplace and the character of the Internet moved from providing a communications channel for individuals who were computer literate to a global market that only required a terminal device and a method of connection to the Internet. Many users around the world use communications devices rather than computers to access the Internet. As mobile phone systems become more capable it is possible that most users will connect to the Internet by mobile communications devices. That makes it more rather than less important to address the security vulnerabilities that make DoS attacks and cyber crime so easy.


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