Saturday, January 26, 2008


The Internet is a truly amazing piece of technology. It constantly surprises me on the kinds of uses people come up with it. For the modern activist, the Internet would prove to be a very useful tool in bringing people together for a common cause. In the past, people have generally used it as a tool to disseminate information. But most recently, it is being used as a tool for attack.

If you're not familiar with Scientology, it's probably about time you found out about them. Wikipedia is a good place to start. If you prefer to watch a video instead, BBC Panorama did an expose on them a while back. You can find the video here. Watch it.

Anyway, this blog post isn't about them. It's about the interesting phenomenon of online activism, dubbed hacktivism. A group of online activists, calling themselves Anonymous, have come together and declared an online war on the church. This alone, is interesting to observe as they use various methods to attack the church.

  1. Declaration of War
    They released an online video declaration on YouTube. If you find the voice-over funny, it's because it was done using a Text-to-Speech translation software. This prevents voice identification and allows the group members to remain anonymous. Also, it gives the group a single voice, regardless of who is speaking. The latter reason would be important, to project a single consistent image in their campaign.
  2. Information Campaign
    They released a bunch of documents that were claimed to be secret documents. As mentioned in their declaration, their core tactic for taking down the church is to expose the truth. They have also released another video, challenging the main stream media to report the truth. Just like any other war, information is crucial to winning it.
  3. First Blood
    They drew first blood by launching a series of crippling DDoS attacks on servers of the church. This kind of attack is a typical front-line assault on any online system. It's fairly simple to orchestrate and is particularly effective at taking down web servers. In some countries, this is illegal. However, due to the distributed nature of the attack, it is particularly difficult to police. Some parties have decried this tactic as it isn't very gentlemanly. However, as they have already declared in their video, they will use any tactic that the church has used before. So, it's quid-pro-quo, I guess.
  4. Base Assault
    This takes the campaign to a whole other level. Know that a purely online campaign would not cripple the church, they are gathering in front of the London branch of the church in a fortnight's time as a show of force. This will be a serious test on the strength of their campaign. I'm tempted to pop down to London with my camera to record this historic event.
I'm excited just thinking about what they're going to do next. This is particularly interesting to me as it's the first coordinated hacktivist activity that I've been able to observe. Other activists who wish to take their campaign online, might even learn a thing or two from this campaign. I just hope that they don't turn out to be a bunch of crazies.

UPDATE: Just as I finished writing this blog, I read this: Tom Cruise today announced that the Church of Scientology would be pursuing all means, legal and otherwise, to shut down the Internet group referring to themselves as simply "Anonymous". I guess that the gloves have come off now.


Dan said...

didn't they get hacked back or sth?

Shawn Tan said...

not possible..

Dan said...

Shawn Tan said...

yea, they didn't managed to hack back.. that's why i said it was not possible, simply because of the decentralised nature of the group..

while it's possible to hit the church directly, it's not quite possible to hit the hacktivists directly.. in order to do that, the church would first need to track down who these people are.. if these people are smart, they will know how to hide their trail..

as an analogy, it's like fighting a guerilla jungle warfare.. they burnt down a tree, but the guerillas were miles away..

qian said...

So are you going down for the event?

Shawn Tan said...

why?? u wanna go too??

Rawr said...

They actually posted these same posters in Imperial, when nobody is around to notice who posted it.