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BLOG: Cyber control now a debate for the ages

Christopher Joye (via AFR) | May 14, 2013
The internet wars are cleaved between lawyers, policymakers and national security officials trying to figure out how to apply rules, while hackers resist such efforts.

As our thoughts, actions and decisions are translated into bits and bytes, propelled at light speed around the world by fibre, copper and wireless communications, we wittingly or unwittingly straddle multiple sovereign states.

For example, it is quite common for individual and state-sponsored hackers to command armies of botnets - thousands of hijacked computers often spread all over the world - to mount attacks on business and government websites, making them unavailable or open to the extraction of sensitive information.

In the last year we've seen loosely-knit groups like Anonymous temporarily disable the websites of numerous Australian government agencies including the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. On Monday, The Australian Financial Review reported that sophisticated banking Trojan viruses developed by Russian crime syndicates had defeated NBN Co's anti-virus systems and were found attempting to communicate with remote command and control centres.


The internet wars are cleaved between lawyers, policymakers, and national security officials trying to figure out how to apply rules, prosecute crimes and defend against new threats on the one hand, and hackers, anarcho-libertarians, and so-called hacktivists resisting these efforts to varying degrees on the other.

"Australian laws generally apply to everything that a person does or accesses via the internet from Australia," says Michael Caplan, a lawyer with Gilbert & Tobin. "But it is a constant battle for the law to keep pace with the new ways that people transact and interact via the internet."

Those who seek to establish the internet as a supranational state position themselves as digital Robin Hoods, stealing property rights and highly sensitive information from academics, businesses and governments, amongst others, which they then freely distribute to acolytes.

"There remains a misleadingly romantic mystique about the hacker - a latter day teenage David taking on the Goliath of big government and corporate servers from a laptop in his bedroom," says shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull.

It is an argument typified by Wikileaks. A sophisticated and clandestine whistle-blowing service against major injustices made sense. But denying democratic communities the right to protect confidential information by publishing, en masse, more than 250,000 classified and illegally obtained diplomatic communications seems more anarchic in intent.

Equally, hacking into and then downloading one of the largest online academic research libraries to make those documents freely available - as attempted by the late Aaron Swartz - is arguably theft of protected intellectual property on an enormous scale. And yet many online activists and their proxies in the alternative media deify these infractions as the work of freedom fighters gallantly combating tyrannical governments.


At the crux of the anarcho-libertarian view of the war on the internet is the notion of a national security conspiracy. Online activists claim that, despite the growing risks posed by cyber attacks, it is all just a "beat-up".


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