Information War?: Lulzsec, Anonymous, Wikileaks and Stuxnet

Just after Wikileaks was being refused services from corporations like Mastercard and Amazon, following the leaking of thousands of USA State department documents, the group Anonymous rocketed into public view as it attacked back.  Co-ordinating denial of service attacks against many who were refusing services previously provided to Wikileaks, Anonymous came into worldwide prominence. In the midst of this cyber-commentator and online civil rights activist John Perry Barlow tweeted

JP Barlow's tweet declaring the first 'serious infowar'

Who’d have thought John Perry Barlow would be right?

The first ‘serious infowar’ has been played out starting with Wikileaks, politicised denial of service attacks from Anonymous and recently morphed into a different stage with the emergence of LulzSec’s series of hacks and denial of service attacks. Thought to be a splinter group from Anonymous, Lulzsec’s mobilisation in the infowar took another twist yesterday with the emergence of Antisec which allies Lulzsec with Anonymous and other hackers and hacking groups to release classified information on all kinds of targets. Their first declaration ends:

“Hackers of the world are uniting and taking direct action against our common oppressors – the government, corporations, police, and militaries of the world. See you again real soon! ;D”

A dump of thousands of confidential documents from the Arizona State Police began the campaign, hoping to identify and make clear, it was claimed, the racism of this police force. It was joined soon by a list of 2,800 members of the Columbian Special Forces Police and by further ddos attacks by Lulzsec Brazil. The Antisec campaign promises further leaks, at least every Friday.

In the same period as Wikileaks’ publication of USA State Department cables was leading into Anonymous and Lulzsec’s recent campaigns, a new highly sophisticated computer worm called Stuxnet was being analysed. This lead to the first convincing identification of an attack on physical infrastructure by purely virtual means. This worm was aimed at Iranian nuclear enrichment plants and sought to destroy centrifuges by illicitly speeding up and slowing down their motors beyond safe limits. There is no confirmation of who launched this, though given the target and the nature of the worm nearly all commentators claim it was governments of the USA or Israel or both.

What has all this hacking to do with cultural production and digital cultures?

The infowar of Barlow’s claim is a sign of an information politics that arises with digitisation and the internet. Stuxnet is a powerful sign of such politics engaged in by nation-states conducting covert wars. Antisec is a campaign from the deinstitutionalised grassroots of information politics.  Neither is disconnected from non-digital, non-internet politics, as Stuxnet dramatises, but perhaps this information politics comes with its own characteristics, its own forces and pressures; just as non-virtual politics, like capitalism, does.

Culture Digitally has to operate within this new form of politics, just as it has to operate in the politics of nation-states, capitalism and inequalities that existed well before and continue to exist since the rise of the internet to mass use. We see it all around us not only in these hacks, but in file sharing and intellectual property debates, in radical changes to privacy and the public/private divide, in the network effects of social media and changes to broadcast media, in the redivision of leisure, work and play and more.

Identifying, exploring, critiquing this information politics is one part of working in and on culture digitally.