By Nathaniel Tan
Nathaniel Tan believes this world is full of people, he was born to love them all. He blogs at www.jelas.info and tweets @NatAsasi
Rais Yatim and the IGP say they’re ready to take on hacktivists Anonymous. I find myself asking: Do either of these guys even have an active email account?
Let’s begin with some disclaimers — based on what I’ve read of them so far (admittedly, this is limited to their page on Wikipedia).
I do not think that all hacktivists, under this banner or otherwise, are inherently saints, heroes or faultless revolutionaries. I have no particular sympathy for most of their victims, but I’m sure some of their escapades are problematic in their own way.
I also can’t pretend the wording they chose for their Operation Malaysia message was particularly accurate, nor was their tone something that I would have taken.
This article, however, is not here to either glorify or demonise this movement — a proper commentary on them would require much more research and space. Let’s explore instead, both the local and global context to their attack, as well as the response of the government.
A KNIFE TO A GUNFIGHT
Starting with the latter, our nation’s officials seem to be up in a huff, pounding their chests saying that we shall successfully fend off this attack.
At the time of writing the attack has not happened but I’m willing to bet that it was pulled off successfully, and a number of our sites are either taken offline or defaced. I may have to retract my words and eat humble pie, but I’m going to go ahead and say that’s unlikely.
What the likes of the IGP and Rais don’t seem to understand is that if their reputations regarding technology are anything to go by, they are pretty much bringing a knife to this particular gunfight.
Rais’ comments about technology started a whole Internet meme about his dinosaurness.
Our gallant police on the other hand have made themselves something of a laughing stock in their war against “cybercrime” — how many bloggers have had their monitors and keyboards confiscated as “evidence” of what they’ve written on the Internet? (Confiscating CPUs is mildly more justifiable, but still, only an idiot would go looking for proof regarding what appeared on a blog on a CPU).
Having had to personally explain the difference between a blog post and a comment on a blog to the police while I was being investigated did not do tons to improve my confidence in them.
I am not an expert on cyberattacks, but from what I understand, protecting your web assets in this day and age is slightly akin to trying to protect your shop from being broken into.
There’s a lot you can do to improve the security around your shop — no limit to the amount you can spend, almost (until of course, it becomes impractical). However, I’ve always generally thought that if someone with enough willpower and resources wants to break into your office — he’s going to successfully break into your office.
Like most competitions, if you have enough resources to outgun your competitor, you stand a chance, but what hacktivists have facilitated is the intelligent utilisation of a ground spring of resources — enough to challenge previously unshakeable governments and major corporations. The Internet has basically levelled the playing field in very significant ways, and gives small groups of people with the right skills the ability to make life very difficult for the powers that be.
This is neither the time nor place to make normative judgments about this state of affairs, but said state exists regardless. To return to the earlier analogy, the question we must now ask is: how can we prevent people from wanting to break into our shop?
There are always bad guys who “just want to watch the world burn”, as Batman’s Alfred said, but you’ll find the majority of Anonymous attacks correspond to some moral calling — whether or not we agree with them.
I’ll give credit where it’s due — Malaysia’s censorship of the Internet is not as bad as some other countries. That said, just because we’re not among the worst does not mean we are good.
We’ve arrested quite a number of bloggers — very few of whom have been charged or convicted (not for lack of trying by the government, mind), we seem to sue Internet writers at the drop of a hat, and we have no shortage of Cabinet ministers constantly decrying those of us on the Internet as slanderers and liars. Most recently, we made global headlines when a Malaysian company demanded a 100-tweet apology.
No, I can’t say we’ve got the best record when it comes to freedom of expression on the Internet.
In shutting down access to file sharing sites like Pirate Bay and Megaupload, Malaysia also appears to have picked a losing side in the evolving media wars.
As an aside, I think the big production houses will lose the war against pirates dedicated to sharing. If they were smart, they’d think quickly about how to embrace this change and still profit from it (think perhaps product placements a la The Truman Show), rather than trying to stem tides that will drown out those who refuse to change.
SINK OR SWIM
The latter is also good advice for Malaysia. If a government wants to survive in the long run, it would do well to accept the fact that information is now a free-for-all (guys, if information can be leaked from the US military, I’m going to go ahead and say it can leak from whatever system you’re using), and that the best way to protect the truth is in the free marketplace of ideas. Far too often, we have seen that those trying to put a stranglehold on that free marketplace are simultaneously trying to sell us anything but the truth.
Protecting privacy and personal secrets will continue to be a challenge (looking at you, Facebook), but where governance is concerned, I have little doubt that greater openness and transparency can only benefit the majority in the long run.
So, in the words of that wonderful poet: “You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times, they are a changing.”
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.