Anonymous, the “hacktivist” group famous for using its technological savvy to target powerful entities, is at it again. On January 19, Anonymous claimed credit for the cyber-attacks against the MPAA, RIAA, Universal Music, and even the U.S. Department of Justice for “ignoring the voice of the people.” Wielding the weapon of DDoS, or “distributed denial of service,” Anonymous users coordinate to shut down websites by overloading their servers with web traffic. This attack is the latest move in Operation Payback, a coordinated effort against the content industry for shutting down illegal filesharing websites and for supporting the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), both of which are anti-piracy legislation. Additionally, earlier this January, Anonymous hacked a familiar target, Sony Pictures, for supporting SOPA.

Coming just one day after the internet blackout to protest SOPA and PIPA, controversial legislation designed to fight copyright piracy by completely blocking access to websites with infringing content, Anonymous framed its latest attack as a “blackout” for SOPA supporters.

The Justice Department’s recent indictment against Megaupload.com, one of the world’s largest filesharing websites, was the impetus for Anonymous’s latest wave of DDoS assaults. The DOJ not only shut down the website, but also arrested its founder, Kim Dotcom, and three executives for allegedly misusing a content storage and distribution website for “massive worldwide online piracy.” Megaupload responded to the charges by insisting that the vast majority of its web traffic is legal, inviting the content industry to commence a dialogue with the website. Anonymous immediately came to the defense of Kim Dotcom, a man whose alleged piracy netted him a vast fortune and who is now facing charges of criminal copyright infringement, money laundering, and racketeering.

While Anonymous succeeded in disabling the affected websites only temporarily, leading some commentators to dismiss the attacks as a “nuisance,” the government should not ignore Anonymous’s threats to take down the websites of the White House, FBI, and democrat politicians who support SOPA.

Although Congress has indefinitely postponed the SOPA and PIPA bills in their current form, the legislation is not off the congressional table. Thus, we can expect the Internet to remain a battleground until all stakeholders confront the cross-border issue of copyright infringement while also attending to the pressing censorship and security concerns that have plagued SOPA and PIPA.

—Kathryn Brown

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