You may have missed this…the day China pulled the plug.

You might have missed this.  I certainly did – but then again for the last week or two I’ve been running around like the proverbial ‘blue arsed fly’ trying to juggle a variety of personal, professional and voluntary responsibilities whilst avoiding cat-induced sleep deprivation.  Anyway…where were you when China appeared to ‘turn off’ access to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube all over the world?

Because yes, it actually happened – from sometime on Wednesday traffic destined for the servers of these three social media giants was noticed to be going to servers based in the People’s Republic of China.   Technicians overseeing the world’s DNS systems (the ‘phone books’ of the Internet that tell servers and routers around the Internet where to send traffic to) noticed this, and eventually traced it back to a node on the DNS system in Sweden, that may have either been accidentally reconfigured or deliberately reconfigured by hackers.  Whatever the reason, it’s been an eye opener in principle, it means that any reasonably equipped government or terrorist organisation can subvert the whole routing system of the Internet – at least until the holes that allowed this to happen are secured.

The nature of the Internet is such that it has always been possible to do this sort of subversion; it’s just that the Net has never been important enough to be worth worrying about until recently.    The recent kerfuffle between Google, the Government of the PRC and the US Government has put the Internet firmly on the political stage – much more prominently than took place during the Iranian disturbances last summer.  (I’ll be commenting again on Google / PRC in the next few days, but here are my previous comments on that particular story)

It’s almost certain that this was an act either ordered or condoned by the government of the People’s Republic.  Their much vaunted ‘Green Dam’ is clearly capable of acting way beyond the borders of the PRC, especially if the remote control ‘exploits’ are used to take control of PCs running the program.  This would effectively give the PRC a massive cyberwarfare potential, with every PC legally installed in the PRC being capable of taking part in a botnet.

This action very much appears to be a shot across the international community’s bows; the PRC demonstrated their ability to break the Internet.  There are ways around this intrusion, of course, and steps will be taken to deal with it, but it does show that the gloves are off in what is increasingly a battle of wills between governments wishing to restrict what their citizens can read online and those that aren’t interested.  And I’m afraid that I have to include some democratic governments – like Australia – in that list.

The Internet is a political weapon; last Dceember I commented on how the rules of online civil unrest might be changing, as people on the receiving end of protest decided to do something about it – in that item it was Iran and Twitter.  It may well be that that was simply the beginning of ongoing efforts from repressive regimes to control the streets of cyberspace as well as the streets of their own cities.  What is important to realise is that the nature of the Internet – it’s flexibility, expandability, it’s ability to be used for things that the original creators had never even thought of – is at the root of the relative ease with which people can break it.

Unfortunately I expect the ‘powers that be’ to react to this sort of threat by using it as an excuse to tighten up various aspects of security and surveillance on the Net.  Expect legislation such as ACTA and The Digital Economy Bill to be tightened up in a ‘9/11’ style response to this act of online retaliation.

Twitter hacked – not the end of the world, no surprise, and a badge of honour.

There’s a scene in the movie ‘Blazing Saddles’ where the Waco Kid, being asked why he’s ended up in prison for drunkenness, bewails the fact that when he was the well known gun-slinger everyone wanted to try and get him, so they could be the new number one.  He tells how he eventually hung up his guns when he heard a voice yelling ‘Draw’, turned around to fight, and nearly shot a 5 year old child.

He turns his back on the little brat, who then shoots the Waco Kid in the ass…..

Life in the online world gets like that, too.

Apparently Twitter was hacked last night by an outfit called the Iranian Cyber Army.  The story broke on the Mashable web site – I have to say that were I not receiving Tweets from Mashable I wouldn’t have known, as I’ve been getting (I think) Tweeted over the period of the hack and I can quite happily see their home page.  The fact that this is now being reported as a DNS based attack means that it wasn’t so much Twitter that was walloped as that traffic to Twitter was diverted elsewhere for a while …

Anyway, let’s face it – this is a slap in the face to Twitter (indirectly) but isn’t the end of the world.  At least some of us – if not most of us who’re not using the DNS system that was compromised – are still Tweeting  and the world will not slide to DEFCON1 because the global inanity stream was temporarily interrupted for the Digerati.

But, assuming these chaps ARE who they claim to be –  a group with Iranian sympathies – we shouldn’t be surprised.  A campaign was organised through Twitter earlier this year to protest about the clamp down on civil rights in Iran.  This attack may be regarded by the originators as ‘payback’ and goes to show that in Cyberspace, as in the real world, ‘people power’ is not a one way street.  The big boys do sometimes have their day of successful protest as well.  Governments can quite easily learn the fine arts of online civil disobedience, and do it with greater ease than the folks running the protest.

When people use a site as a base or launching ground for civil disobedience, campaigning or protest then it will become a target for those who object to the issues being promoted.  That kickback may come in the form of debate, negative campaigning against the site, abuse of people on the site, legal efforts to remove or silence the site, or, as here, technical efforts to remove the site.  Which means that more and more sites used by people to organise campaigns will either have to become ‘hardened’ to protect against attack or stop carrying legitimate material that someone, somewhere, is pissed enough about to want it removed.

We may be heading in to a period of ‘big boy’s rules’ in cyberspace where sites that permit the exposition of people power are simply taken down by this sort of online activity.  But if that happens to your favourite site, and the cause is just, don’t be sad; regard it as a badge of honour that your activities have upset someone enough to want to take you down.

Remember the words of Winston Churchill ‘ ‘You have enemies; that’s good – it means that you have stood up for something sometime in your life’.

Web’n’Walk to the Rescue

Well, BT decided to throw some sort of unholy wobbly on me this evening and I ended up being unable to contact numerous sites I regularly use (including this Blog) and also experienced extremely slow performance on other sites and mail servers.

The irony was that I couldn’t actually get to BT’s ‘Service Status’ page – it kept timing out – which I guess gave some indication of where the problem lay.

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