You know it’s getting serious when people aren’t using Facebook. The social networking giant now says it has noticed significantly reduced traffic from Egypt as a result of the Egyptian government’s attempt to shut down its country’s Internet this week to quash political protests. Though we’ve seen governments attempt to censor the Internet in times of uprising before (like during the 2009 Iranian election), Forbes says this is “the first time in modern history a major Internet economy is being shut down.”
Mobile phone networks have reportedly been disrupted, leaving millions without access to text messaging or phone calls. The country’s key Internet Service Providers are also off the air, says James Cowie, the chief technology officer of Internet monitoring firm Renesys on his blog. “Virtually all of Egypt’s Internet addresses are now unreachable, worldwide. [Forbes]
Indeed, Cowie says, this is something new compared to other government internet censorship:
Similar demonstrations and Web outages are occurring in Tunisia, though Cowie noted that the Egypt Internet downtime “is a completely different situation from the modest Internet manipulation that took place in Tunisia, where specific routes were blocked, or Iran, where the Internet stayed up in a rate-limited form designed to make Internet connectivity painfully slow.” [PC Magazine]
Thoughts of a government being able to just “turn off the Internet” has people in other countries frightened, but it was particularly easy to achieve in Egypt.
Today WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, wanted in connection with sex-related charges in Sweden, turned himself in to the police in London. And while Assange’s personal troubles escalate, so does the online war over WikiLeaks.
Last week came the cyber attack against WikiLeaks.org, which hacker “Jester” claimed to have organized.
On his blog, Jester describes himself as a”hacktivist for good” and someone who is “obstructing the lines of communication for terrorists, sympathizers, fixers, facilitators, oppressive regimes and other general bad guys.” [Los Angeles Times]
That disrupted the site’s operation and left WikiLeaks scrambling. But this week the tide of hacking has turned: Hackers operating under the names Operation Payback or Anonymous are targeting sites that have withdrawn support from WikiLeaks during the current controversy.
Noa Bar Yossef, senior security strategist for Imperva, commented via e-mail to say, “Operation Payback’s goal is not hacking for profit. In the classical external hacker case we see hackers grab information from wherever they can and monetize on it. In this case though, the hackers’ goal is to cripple a service, disrupt services, protest their cause and cause humiliation. In fact, what we see here is a very focused attack – knocking the servers offline due to so-called ‘hacker injustice’.” [PC World]
Last week an account going by the name @PeaceKaren_25 was suspended by Twitter.com. We wouldn’t normally care about some spambot getting picked off, but PeaceKaren is important because she wasn’t peddling porn or popups–she was a political puppet.
Karen and her sister account @HopeMarie_25 are examples of political “astroturf,” fake Twitter accounts that create the illusion of a “grassroots” political movement. In the diagram above, the two accounts are connected by a very thick band, which indicates that Marie constantly re-tweeted everything Karen said. Together they sent out over 20,000 tweets in the last four months promoting the Twitter account and website of Republican congressional leader John Boehner.
Such messages were cataloged and analyzed by Indiana University’s Truthy project, which takes its name from Stephen Colbert’s concept of “truthiness.” The goal of the project is to seek out propaganda and smear campaigns conducted via false Twitter accounts.
Google took its two newest steps on the march toward world domination this week, first rolling out a feature that lets people make free phone calls from Gmail, and then introducing real-time searching of fast-updating information, like tweets.
The first initiative is off to a hot start. Gmail users placed more than a million phone calls through Google on the service’s first day Wednesday.
Calling from within Gmail, by contrast, requires nothing more than installing a small plug-in program (available for Windows XP or newer, Mac OS X 10.4 or newer and some versions of Linux) and logging into Gmail. Click the “Call phone” link to the left of your inbox, type in a number, click the big blue “Call” button and things proceed as if you had just finished spinning a Bell System phone’s rotary dial [Washington Post].