The State Monopoly on DDoS

One reason I harped on the way Ken Dilanian referred to the “official position” that hacking other governments was acceptable was because I suspected the government does what NBC just reported they do: engage in hacking against other targets, in this case, hackers like Anonymous.

[A] division of Government Communications Headquarters Communications (GCHQ), the British counterpart of the NSA, shut down communications among Anonymous hacktivists by launching a “denial of service” (DDOS) attack – the same technique hackers use to take down bank, retail and government websites – making the British government the first Western government known to have conducted such an attack.

As I noted on Twitter, the report that GCHQ targeted Anonymous should raise questions (that have already been raised) whether either GCHQ or NSA was behind the DDoS attack on noted publishing site WikiLeaks in 2010.

So the NSA (and GCHQ) believe some hacks are legitimate and some are not. But in addition, both are effectively asserting that the state should have a monopoly on hacking, just as it asserts a monopoly on violence. As some of the people involved have been commenting on Twitter, they got charged for DDoSing, even as the Brits were engaging in precisely the same behavior. Particularly troubling, there’s no indication NSA or GCHQ believe they need warrants to exercise their monopoly on hacks against their own citizens (FBI has in the past gotten a warrant to bring down a botnet, so there is precedent).

Of course, therein lies part of the problem: that intelligence is bleeding into law enforcement, and the tools of inter-state spying are being wielded against criminals (and dissidents).

None of this is surprising. It arises directly out of the way the government has gone after terrorists, and this treatment of an IRC channel is directly parallel to the same kind of guilt by association used against terrorists.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

4 replies
  1. RexFlex says:

    Wonder if Mayor di Blasio thinks the same reasoning should apply to National Security?
    You know” You can’t break the law to enforce the law”

  2. Nigel says:

    This isn’t intelligence bleeding into law enforcement – it’s downright illegality, surely ?

    Enforcement, indeed; the law, not so much.

  3. pdaly says:

    Justice Louis Brandeis said it well: “Crime is contagious.”

    from his dissenting opinion in Olmstead v. United States:

    “Decency, security and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperilled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the Government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means—to declare that the Government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal—would bring terrible retribution. Against that pernicious doctrine this Court should resolutely set its face.”

  4. kitsune361 says:

    Are you referring to the November 2010 DOS attack on Wikileaks? I thought self-claimed “patriot hacker” th3j3st3r was behind that?

    Are you possibly implying he [still] works for the government or was lying about his role? Would certainly explain his seeming immunity to getting caught.

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