I was hired on just over a week ago to be a web editor of the Polk Fishwrap. In short, I’m the guy posting all the stories to this web-site.
Part of my job is to search through articles from the Associated Press and other news organizations to see what would be relevant to Polk County readers. Football, politics, taxes and of course Wikileaks seem to come up a lot.
Let’s talk about Wikileaks.
One story that seems to keep coming up is that of a collective group of young, would-be freedom fighters from around the globe called Anonymous.
Right now this group encourages people to download software onto their computers that adds them to a botnet in order to launch attacks on the web-sites of businesses that speak out against or cutoff support to Wikileaks.
A botnet is a network of computers controlled by a single individual used to commit cyber-crimes like hacking encrypted data with raw computing power, or set up Denial of Service, DoS, attacks on web-sites where all the computers try to login to a targeted site in order to bog down its servers and shut it down, thereby denying its use to others.
To the best of my knowledge, Anonymous represents the first time people have willingly allowed their computers to become part of a botnet.
Computers are usually forcefully added to botnets unknown to the user because of some worm or other malicious code accidentally being downloaded along with an email or attachment.
Members of Anonymous claim that their attacks on companies such as Master Card or Visa aren’t actually intended to harm infrastructures or even the businesses themselves in any way. Rather, they claim they just want to make a statement in favor of Wikileaks and against what they see as censorship.
As a journalist I can underestimate the sentiment. I hate censorship, even of stuff I don’t agree with. But as a longtime tech enthusiast, I have to denounce each and every one of them as misguided fools.
Everyone who has volunteered to be a part of this by downloading the software has surrendered control of his or her computer to a complete stranger.
These people claim they just want to support Julian Assange and Wikileaks. OK fine.
Here's the problem, there is nothing stopping the person or persons in charge of Anonymous from using this gift-wrapped tool to commit crimes ranging from identity theft (including of the people within the botnet) to real attacks to critical sites.
There isn't any reason to believe they will simply give up this botnet after their point about Wikileaks has been made either.
Whatever your stance is on Wikileaks, the people downloading this software are committing a crime. The people controlling this software are committing a crime (with the potential for much greater ones to come).
To sum it up: just like you wouldn’t hand the keys of your car to some stranger that says he’s going to use it as a getaway car for a bank robbery, you shouldn’t give these people control of your PC.