Social media-savvy Spokane area residents who use Twitter may have heard something about members of the hacker group Anonymous planning to shut down parts of the Internet on Saturday, March 31. Fortunately for people who like to surf the Web on the weekends, that probably won’t happen.
People claiming to represent Anonymous said that their plan, known by the ominous sounding name Operation Global Blackout, would limit access to the Internet temporarily as a way of protesting the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).
SOPA is a House of Representatives bill intended to help protect people’s intellectual property, but many experts, particularly those involved somehow in social media, have spoken out against it because of potentially harmful effects it could have on ordinary American citizens.
Alex Fitzpatrick of Mashable said that members of Anonymous have made several tweets on their official Twitter feed saying that Operation Global Blackout won’t happen. He added that representatives of the group have stated that Operation Global Blackout was never an officially sanctioned plan.
According to Examiner’s Tom Peracchio, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and the social gaming company Zynga are just a few of the industry leaders who began protesting SOPA as soon as they became aware of its ramifications. Reddit and other social media sites joined the cause during the weeks leading up to Wikipedia’s famous blackout on January 18, 2012.
The bill was shelved indefinitely on January 20, but apparently in February there was still enough concern about SOPA to explain why someone posted detailed explanations of Operation Blackout on the Web.
According to Fitzpatrick, “Operation Blackout calls for a highly-focused Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on what it said are the Internet’s 13 root Domain Name System (DNS) servers. It was announced in February as a protest against SOPA, Wall Street and ‘our irresponsible leaders and the beloved bankers who are starving the world.’
“The release suggested such an attack would temporarily disable the DNS system, which turns a web address such as ‘www.mashable.com’ into an IP address that directs a user’s browser to the proper server. That’s not exactly the same as taking down the entire Internet, but Anonymous said that didn’t matter.
“‘Anybody entering ‘http://www.google.com’ or ANY other url, will get an error page, thus, they will think the Internet is down, which is, close enough,’ reads the release. ‘Remember, this is a protest, we are not trying to ‘kill’ the Internet, we are only temporarily shutting it down where it hurts the most.'”
Opinions are mixed on whether or not Operation Global Blackout would even work. Some experts believe there are enough backup servers to keep much from happening even if the plan goes into effect on Saturday in spite of Anonymous’s reassurances.
Others believe that it could work, depending on how many people take part in the plan.
According to Taylor Armerding of Computerworld, “Even with the advance warning, Alan Woodward, a professor in the Department of Computing at the University of Surrey, thinks Anonymous could do some damage. In an opinion piece for BBC News, Woodward notes that the top-level DNS systems are in different countries, are monitored by different organizations and run on different technologies.
“… he says Anonymous could bring a server down with ramp, in which an army of bots spoof the IP address of a target system and, ’cause the DNS to flood the very network it is supposed to be serving.'”
Still, even with the sobering knowlege that DNS servers are more vulnerable than most people realized, chances are good that people in the Spokane area and around the world won’t be affected by whatever happens on Saturday.