Culture Activists Defend Cyber Disobedience by Drew Clark - 10/04/1999

Dressed in black and armed with an audio-video presentation reminiscent of the cyberpunk film "Blade Runner," two "hacktivists" from the Electronic Disturbance Theater cut an unusual swath at a gathering this week of information warfare professionals heavily populated by men in military uniforms.

Stefan Wray and Ricardo Dominguez (two self-styled electronic artists and political activists from EDT) kicked off their presentation of "The Politics of Infowar" by comparing themselves to Daniel appearing in the lion's den.

Denying that their actions constituted "hacking" or were in any way illegal, the duo nevertheless mounted a defense of "cyber civil disobedience." They recounted some of their previous actions, including a denial-of-service program called FloodNet, which they launched against Mexican government computer servers as a means of expressing support for the Zapatistas.

"We don't consider ourselves hackers," said Dominguez, who said he defined the term as an attempt to infiltrate a Web site, rearrange, or deliberately crash a computer.

"As politics becomes technologized, and technology becomes more politicized, we can expect more hacktivism," said Wray.

They sees themselves as "digital Zapatistas" who are happy to use the notoriety they have gained from electronic disturbances to spread propaganda against the Mexican government to a "military-entertainment" complex that would not otherwise hear this point of view.

EDT's most notorious action, a FloodNet attack against a Pentagon Web site on September 9, 1998, was thwarted when the Department of Defense retaliated with a Java applet called "hostileapplet," which caused the digital protesters' computers to crash.

Dominguez and Wray said they had talked with lawyers at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society about the possibility of suing the government for violating the 1878 Posse Comitatus law that bans the use of the military in domestic law enforcement.

"In the same way that the Pentagon is not allowed to use B-52s against New York City, they may also not be allowed to use offensive information war tactics against civilians," said Dominguez.

But judging by the stream of attendees who deserted the presentation midstream, the duo's thoughts weren't too well received.

"I need some toilet paper to clean out my ears after listening to that propaganda," said Michel Kabay, director of research and development for the ICSA labs (and who is not known for his kind words for hackers) to Winn Schwartau, director of consulting firm Interpact and a conference organizer. Schwartau said he found Dominguez and Wray's willingness to publicly take responsibility for their actions provided an important perspective on information warfare.

- Drew Clark
Senior Writer National Journal's Technology Daily