In an open letter to the British Government, the hacker collective Anonymous said the arrest of five ‘of our fellow anons' for their participation in December's distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against the likes of PayPal, MasterCard and Amazon was ‘a sad mistake on your behalf'.
It said: “Not only does it reveal the fact that you do not seem to understand the present-day political and technological reality, we also take this as a serious declaration of war from yourself, the UK government, to us, Anonymous, the people.”
It went on to compare a DDoS attack to traditional means of protest, saying that sit-ins and picketing have slowly turned into nothing but an empty, ritualised gesture of discontent over the course of the last century. Now people are searching for new ways to pressure politicians and give voice to public demands in a manner that might actually be able to change things for the better.
This has led to the use of the DDoS attack, by blocking access to its opponent's infrastructure to get its message across. It also sought to explain the difference between a DDoS attack and hacking, saying that the concepts often seem to be confused when media and policy-makers talk about Anonymous.
“Hacking as such is defined by the law as ‘unauthorised access to a computer or network', whereas a DDoS attack is simply a case of thousands of people making legitimate connections to a publicly accessible web server at the same time, using up the entire bandwidth or processing power of the given server at once and thereby causing a huge ‘traffic jam',” it said.
“It is clear then, that arresting somebody for taking part in a DDoS attack is exactly like arresting somebody for attending a peaceful demonstration in their hometown. Anonymous believes this right to peacefully protest is one of the fundamental pillars of any democracy and should not be restricted in any way.
“Moreover, we have noted that similar attacks have also been carried out against WikiLeaks itself, yet so far, nobody has been arrested in connection with these attacks, nor are there even any signs of an investigation into this issue at all. Yet, we know exactly who was responsible for that attack.”
It said that it felt that the arrest of the five men was unfair and hypocritical without attempting to find those who 'DDoS'd' the WikiLeaks website. It also said it can assume that the arrests are politically motivated and were being carried out under pressure from the US government.
Anonymous said it cannot and will not stand idle while this injustice is being done. The maximum sentence of ten years imprisonment and a fine of up to £5,000 would, according to Anonymous, effectively ruin the lives of the men, taking away their chance at higher education or even any kind of proper future, simply because they participated in a peaceful cyber protest and stood up for their rights.
The letter said: “We hope that you consider changing the legal framework for what is, at worst, a minor offence. You can easily arrest individuals, but you cannot arrest an ideology. We are united by a common objective and we can and will cross any borders to achieve that.
“So our advice to you, the UK government, is to take this statement as a serious warning from the citizens of the world. We will not rest until our fellow anon protesters have been released.”