Rise Of The Hacktivist

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, is probably the world’s most famous hacker at the moment.  He’s got a legion of hacker fans, who have been busy trying to crash the Internet operations of companies such as MasterCard and PayPal, after they refused to do business with WikiLeaks any longer.  They’ve even threatened to go after British government websites if Assange is extradited on rape charges to Sweden.

It seems there’s also a hacker who’s been counterattacking the WikiLeaks crowd, bringing down both their community website and WikiLeaks itself.  He works under the alias “Jester” and uses Twitter to announce successful attacks with the phrase “TANGO DOWN!”  That’s military lingo for dropping a terrorist. 

Jester hits websites he views as supportive of terrorism, designating WikiLeaks as a “tango” for “attempting to endanger the lives of our troops, other assets, and foreign relations,” as reported by Steven Nelson of the Daily Caller.

There is some debate over whether Jester took down, since his Tweet on the subject was a little cryptic: “ – that looks like a TANGO DOWN (not) maybe you guys pissed off the wrong person trying to (wrongly) ID me?”

Jester’s crusade certainly has its critics.  Research analyst Richard Stiennon exchanged emails with the “patriotic hacktivist” shortly after his emergence last January, in which Jester identified himself as “an ex-soldier with a rather famous unit, country purposely not specified,” who served “in and around Afghanistan, amongst other places.”  He views the Internet as another battlefield in the War on Terror, where terrorists “recruit, propagate, and co-ordinate.”  Jester, in turn, “exists in shadow to disrupt their online activity.”

Considering the inherently lawless nature of the Internet wilderness, Stiennon wondered, “In the absence of a lawful society, is vigilantism wrong?  Certainly there are many players on both sides of cyber conflicts that feel strongly about their purpose.”  He concluded that “taking down websites is unlawful and wrong,” regardless of the reason, and suggested Jester might be disrupting communications that counter-terror experts need to monitor quietly. 

Stiennon pleaded with Jester to “come in from the cold” and work with the authorities to “further his vendetta,” but so far this plea has been ignored.  Ordinary Internet users with a bellyful of viruses, spam, and denial-of-service attacks certainly wish hackers would quit vandalizing the supreme intellectual achievement of the human race, no matter what their cause.  It doesn’t seem likely they’ll disarm any time soon, and the authorities haven’t been able to stop them.  We must decide for ourselves whether we want to cheer or condemn the one who uses his keyboard to hunt tangos.