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The Coming Swarm: DDOS Actions, Hacktivism, and Civil Disobedience on the Internet

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What is Hacktivism? In The Coming Swarm, rising star Molly Sauter examines the history, development, theory, and practice of distributed denial of service actions as a tactic of political activism. The internet is a vital arena of communication, self expression, and interpersonal organizing. When there is a message to convey, words to get out, or people to unify, many will What is Hacktivism? In The Coming Swarm, rising star Molly Sauter examines the history, development, theory, and practice of distributed denial of service actions as a tactic of political activism. The internet is a vital arena of communication, self expression, and interpersonal organizing. When there is a message to convey, words to get out, or people to unify, many will turn to the internet as a theater for that activity. As familiar and widely accepted activist tools-petitions, fundraisers, mass letter-writing, call-in campaigns and others-find equivalent practices in the online space, is there also room for the tactics of disruption and civil disobedience that are equally familiar from the realm of street marches, occupations, and sit-ins? With a historically grounded analysis, and a focus on early deployments of activist DDOS as well as modern instances to trace its development over time, The Coming Swarm uses activist DDOS actions as the foundation of a larger analysis of the practice of disruptive civil disobedience on the internet.


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What is Hacktivism? In The Coming Swarm, rising star Molly Sauter examines the history, development, theory, and practice of distributed denial of service actions as a tactic of political activism. The internet is a vital arena of communication, self expression, and interpersonal organizing. When there is a message to convey, words to get out, or people to unify, many will What is Hacktivism? In The Coming Swarm, rising star Molly Sauter examines the history, development, theory, and practice of distributed denial of service actions as a tactic of political activism. The internet is a vital arena of communication, self expression, and interpersonal organizing. When there is a message to convey, words to get out, or people to unify, many will turn to the internet as a theater for that activity. As familiar and widely accepted activist tools-petitions, fundraisers, mass letter-writing, call-in campaigns and others-find equivalent practices in the online space, is there also room for the tactics of disruption and civil disobedience that are equally familiar from the realm of street marches, occupations, and sit-ins? With a historically grounded analysis, and a focus on early deployments of activist DDOS as well as modern instances to trace its development over time, The Coming Swarm uses activist DDOS actions as the foundation of a larger analysis of the practice of disruptive civil disobedience on the internet.

30 review for The Coming Swarm: DDOS Actions, Hacktivism, and Civil Disobedience on the Internet

  1. 4 out of 5

    David Dinaburg

    But the danger of the digital public sphere is not exclusion but invisibility. As Herbert Simon observed, a surplus of information leads to a surfeit of attention; in a digital public sphere, anyone can speak, but not everyone can be heard. I am constantly stunned by my rush of endorphins when an update says, “So-and-so likes your review on Goodreads!” I know it is a trap, that variable-interval reward schedules—randomness, or patterns so complex as to appear incomprehensibly random—can become h But the danger of the digital public sphere is not exclusion but invisibility. As Herbert Simon observed, a surplus of information leads to a surfeit of attention; in a digital public sphere, anyone can speak, but not everyone can be heard. I am constantly stunned by my rush of endorphins when an update says, “So-and-so likes your review on Goodreads!” I know it is a trap, that variable-interval reward schedules—randomness, or patterns so complex as to appear incomprehensibly random—can become habitual; it is likely why people, never knowing when they’ll be rewarded with a stimulus, check email so often. Random or seemingly random rewards are insidious; brains trying to weave a cohesive tapestry from a patternless tangle are primed for all sorts of pliable and suggestive strangeness. To create on the internet is to cry in a rainstorm: who’s to know, excepting those in such close proximity as to be able to distinguish the source? There’s too much internet to analogize it to the real-world, but analogizing is [probably] the way the brain works; go with what you know. So while the “the Great Firewall of China” doesn’t actually apply, it is too clever not to use when talking about online censorship in China. It hits that part of our brain that—just because it is cute—makes the phrase seem so accurate as to reform the contours of the object. Another analogy we deal with daily is that of “time”; it isn’t an object, nor can it be saved. We speak of it that way, plan our lives like time can be “spent”; it has become a resource that, unsurprisingly in our hypercapitalist era, has reformed itself around the concept of our sacred fiat currency. Phrases like the “Great Firewall of China” position the internet as a real physical space that can be circumscribed, protected. And the longer people think about the internet as a digital representation of reality, the more it will be shaped into the metaphor itself. It has different lines and limits: ebooks are infinitely reproducible, so why cap how many people can borrow a “copy” from the library? Habit, mostly, and a stubborn clinging belief that the a priori system—a system designed and built around finite, physical books—has some mystical power because of the momentum of a past era. This moves in both directions: expecting digital space to grant the same rights and benefits as have been carved out through generations of hardship, civil disobedience, and revolution is the same delusion as the “old guard” of creative media publishing assuming their cost-of-creation expenses and real-world overhead fees should extend into a basically zeroed-out production line: Infringement on the property rights of private actors is often brought up as a criticism of DDOS actions, as if there was a space online that wasn’t controlled by one private entity or another. Charges of censorship are usually thrown into the mix as well, because (ironically) of the inter’s overwhelming use as an outlet for speech, by individuals, corporations, states, and everyone else. “Why,” the critique goes, “can’t you come up with a way to protest that doesn’t step on somebody else’s toes?” But the internet, as it were, is all somebody else’s toes. It might sound tautological, but different things are different, and should be treated as such. We want to analogize DDoS actions as sit-ins, because we know where to position sit-ins in our worldview; but they aren’t sit-ins. The internet isn’t the sidewalk—it’s more like Outer Space. Because no will hear you scream. Except, again, it isn’t like Outer Space either; the trap of the analogizing brain makes everything like something else, even when it isn’t. So we take shortcuts to make unfamiliar things familiar; maybe from weak analogy, maybe from simplified media compression: The word “hacker” was, and is still now, used by the news media as a catchall term to apply to any type of criminal or “bad” computer activity, including those that did not break any laws. The hacker figure himself (media depictions of male hackers outnumber those of female hackers by a wide margin) became a type of “folk devil,” a personification of our anxieties about technology, the technologically mediated society, and our increasingly technologically mediated selves. The hacker, as depicted in film and on the 6 o’clock news, is the central deviant of the information society. Maybe from poetic license. Whatever the case, The Coming Swarm: DDOS Actions, Hacktivism, and Civil Disobedience on the Internet attempts to frame the internet as its own thing; no bad metaphors or weak analogies clutter the pages. It opens up a conceptual framework that is in danger of being elided before it has a chance to be recognized—the internet, uncoupled from physicality, creating new ways for incorporeal voices to be heard.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Erhardt Graeff

    Full disclosure: I am a good friend and colleague of the author and followed this work from near its inception. This is an important contribution to political theory, social movements and civic studies. Molly provides a nuanced argument for situating DDOS within a repertoire of more widely and traditionally accepted civil disobedience tactics. Her command of the relevant history, literature, and theory allows her to trace the fundamental qualities of disruptive political action, cutting through Full disclosure: I am a good friend and colleague of the author and followed this work from near its inception. This is an important contribution to political theory, social movements and civic studies. Molly provides a nuanced argument for situating DDOS within a repertoire of more widely and traditionally accepted civil disobedience tactics. Her command of the relevant history, literature, and theory allows her to trace the fundamental qualities of disruptive political action, cutting through the nostalgic version of the civil rights movement and the confusing media and legal narratives that push political hacktivists into criminal and terrorist categories. Once again, this is a work of political theory by an adept media scholar. She is not an apologist for DDOSers broadly. Molly is clear that DDOS's efficacy as disruptive political action has never been clear and is in fact on the path toward diminishing returns. Moreover, despite Molly's argument, we as a society may never successfully separate activist DDOS from criminal DDOS. The ethical boundaries under which legitimate civil disobedience occurs within this form of digital activism are hard to accomplish as the tools move away from one computer one voice, voluntarily and explicitly offered, toward passive participation or nonvoluntary botnets employed in protests. In many ways, the metaphors to street protest and sit-ins break down in the online spaces, where there are no true public spaces in which freedom of speech and assembly can be practiced in legally sanctioned ways. Furthermore, DDOS actions don't clearly represent their political nature And where does it extend? I recently asked Molly if she thought that giving money to big campaigns, trusting them to spend it wisely, was similar to offering your computer to an IRC channel to use for DDOS actions they deemed a priority. Using her theory, we can relate both of these resources—money and computing—to political speech. And she believes they are similar. However, there is a difference in cost. One hundred dollars costs someone $100, whereas the computing resources are negligible as they are part of the sunk cost of owning computers and paying for bandwidth. There is also a difference in risk. Giving money to a cause is a low cost activity. In many cases you can give money anonymously too, if privacy is important. Thanks to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act though, participating in a DDOS action puts a person at risk of felony fraud charges with significant prison time and "damage" liability. The value and legitimacy of political action should not be based on either cost or risk, even though, as Molly points out in her book, personal cost and the threat of arrest are historically markers of public legitimization of dissent. The police and courts help draw attention to an action by reacting to it and your willingness to be put on trial demonstrates your respect for the law whilst also disagreeing with it. DDOS activists do not have the luxury of facing "reasonable" risk though in their civil disobedience. The legibility of DDOS as political action is hard for observers less sophisticated than Molly. The dramatic consequences of the CFAA forces most arrests into plea bargaining in which the role of legal spectacle to legitimize the political action disappear: there is no "day in court" for the activists, rather they come off as guilt-admitting criminals, who are now not allowed to talk about the intention of their actions publicly due to the conditions of the plea deal. This is Molly's other major contribution in this work: a cogent argument for reforming the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in light of how it squelches what she argues should be understood as legitimate political speech acts in the form of DDOS actions. Note: the book begins with a dense introduction as Molly outlines the theoretical, technical, and legal context of her argument, but this sets the stage for a highly readable journey through the evolution of DDOS as action and a healthy reminder of what civil disobedience is all about. Reading this book in the midst of the Ferguson and Eric Garner protests around the country, I was more reflective about disruptive action. What can we do online? Where should the direct and indirect actions go and how will they be judged? I'm both eager and worried for the future of digital activism, as I know Molly is.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    This is hard to rate. It's Sauter's dissertation, in book form. It's written by an academic, for academics, in academic-ese, if you get my drift. Academic papers are written in a certain way: format, language ("There are many confluences of computational circumstances that appear identical in form to a DoS or DDos action but that are not DDos actions."), style ("Here's this important thing, but we're not going to talk about it for four more chapters."). This book reads like that. I heard of this This is hard to rate. It's Sauter's dissertation, in book form. It's written by an academic, for academics, in academic-ese, if you get my drift. Academic papers are written in a certain way: format, language ("There are many confluences of computational circumstances that appear identical in form to a DoS or DDos action but that are not DDos actions."), style ("Here's this important thing, but we're not going to talk about it for four more chapters."). This book reads like that. I heard of this book on a Science Friday interview, and thought it sounded fascinating. Based on that interview, we read it for my book club, and for those of us who managed to get through it, it sparked a fascinating discussion. This book makes for some GREAT conversation. Does intention make a difference in an internet action? How have internet (DDos) actions changed over time? Does claiming them vs. being anonymous make a difference? Is Civil Disobedience online the same as the CD of the Civil Rights Era, as it claims to be? How are public and private spaces defined on an internet that is entirely owned by private entities? How are punishments being meted out, by whom (are they technologically savvy enough to be fair?), and are they commensurate with IRL CD? But reading it was painful. Unless you are still in the academic world, this isn't easy to read. And the basic editing misses drove many of us nuts (grammatical errors, spelling misses, etc.). Read it for content if you dare, or go look up audio interviews. That may be the better way to go unless you are currently fluent in reading academic writing.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Darren

    As our world is ever-reliant and connected we hear and read more about hackers taking over computer systems and creating disruption. Some of the hackers are doing it just for mischief, some for commercial gain and some are pursuing a political point. What about civil disobedience, political activism and ordinary people getting their voice heard? This is potentially a fine line – depending on the path of action being taken – yet something that will have an increasing importance in the future. Read As our world is ever-reliant and connected we hear and read more about hackers taking over computer systems and creating disruption. Some of the hackers are doing it just for mischief, some for commercial gain and some are pursuing a political point. What about civil disobedience, political activism and ordinary people getting their voice heard? This is potentially a fine line – depending on the path of action being taken – yet something that will have an increasing importance in the future. Reading this book can open your eyes and challenge some long-held perceptions. You might feel you are engaged (however sleight) in active campaigning. You fill in petitions – both online and offline – and you might even write to your political representatives. You might share on social media strident campaigning messages but would you, could you and should you engage in online political activisim when it starts to cross into the area of hacking and service disruption? It might be a lot easier than repeatedly telephoning the switchboard of Company X or the Government to register your protest and create a jam. Would you do the same with your computer…? DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) is your friend? By undertaking such actions are you also trampling on the civil liberties and other rights (of your opponent) that you claim to hold dear. Dilemma, dilemma. In today’s ever-changing world how would you know that Company or Government X is actually, really, truly guilty of the ”crimes” you plan to campaign against? Companies, Governments and even pressure groups are known for being less than honest with some of their messages when it suits their own agenda, so are you an unwitting pawn in a bigger game. Philosophy meets technology. Even if you do nothing – a good, traditional compromise – this book will set your mind thinking and help you challenge conventional thought. In a relatively slim volume it will take you through the history of DDoS and how it can have an impact before considering the role, style and methodology of DDoS-ing before ending up with defensive/responsive measures and the possible future of DDoS-ing. This is one of those great ”generalist” books that you could and should read even if you don’t think you have a rebellious bone in your body. It won’t have you jumping out of your armchair to man the barricades but you will be more informed and aware of what is going on around you. If you are a more engaged, vocal sort of person well, it could lead to different things… The Coming Swarm: DDOS Actions, Hacktivism, and Civil Disobedience on the Internet, written by Molly Sauter and published by Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 9781623564568, 192 pages. YYYY

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    This book is an incredible study of DDoS attacks, mostly through a study of Anonymous’s principles, tactics, and largest attacks. It has a great history of previous organizations that used DoS (and then DDoS, as servers became more resilient), and a wonderful understanding of why members of Anonymous might be drawn to their internal DDoS activism subculture. It does a beautiful job of tying all this to historical offline activist movements for context. However, I was moderately disappointed by he This book is an incredible study of DDoS attacks, mostly through a study of Anonymous’s principles, tactics, and largest attacks. It has a great history of previous organizations that used DoS (and then DDoS, as servers became more resilient), and a wonderful understanding of why members of Anonymous might be drawn to their internal DDoS activism subculture. It does a beautiful job of tying all this to historical offline activist movements for context. However, I was moderately disappointed by her conclusion. Sauter’s last section conflates criminality and morality in a way unlike her previous sections. She first mentions the questionable morality of using non-volunteer botnets for DDoS attacks, but then immediately transitions into talking about criminal vs. noncriminal (activist) DDoS attacks in a way that a) conflates the two issues and b) is weirdly legitimacy-policing. She stresses that criminal DDoS attacks will likely delegitimize legal, activist DDoS attacks, after spending a lot of time and pages previously pointing out all the ways in which corporations are constantly attempting to delegitimize and criminalize _all_ types of DDoS attacks. She then upholds physical activist movements such as sit-ins as an example of legitimate real-world activist actions that should be used to model legitimate DDoS actions, apparently forgetting her original point in the first chapter that sit-ins are both rarely considered legitimate in the moment and frequently attempted to be categorized as criminal activity. It was a strangely discordant conclusion.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sara Watson

    Sauter provides a convincing lens and reframing for thinking of distributed denial of service (DDOS) tactics as speech actions, rather than attacks. She works through the political theory precedents as well as novelties that have made these actions difficult for the media and the popular consciousness to process and contextualize. Sauter’s work is both deeply informed and largely accessible. Sauter convincingly argues that the stakes of future DDOS actions lie in their ability to provide space f Sauter provides a convincing lens and reframing for thinking of distributed denial of service (DDOS) tactics as speech actions, rather than attacks. She works through the political theory precedents as well as novelties that have made these actions difficult for the media and the popular consciousness to process and contextualize. Sauter’s work is both deeply informed and largely accessible. Sauter convincingly argues that the stakes of future DDOS actions lie in their ability to provide space for dissent and political discourse against a largely corporate-owned internet. I would have liked to see Sauter expand on the alternatives, providing suggestions for alternative spaces for democratic discourse online, as well offering alternatives for mainstream media to move beyond dominant hacker as “folk-devil” characterizations. I look forward to reading more of Sauters considered, nuanced work as activism and political discourse online evolve. Highly recommended for anyone interested in modern civic life.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Paula

    Ms. Sauter has written a detailed and thought provoking book on Denial of Service attacks as political activism rather than criminal acts. The points she makes are thoughtful and thought provoking. She is truly knowledgeable about this subject and explains her position well. One must discern between Denial of Service actions as being either politically/activist oriented or criminally oriented (pay or we'll take your website down). This book is about the former and it makes the reader think about Ms. Sauter has written a detailed and thought provoking book on Denial of Service attacks as political activism rather than criminal acts. The points she makes are thoughtful and thought provoking. She is truly knowledgeable about this subject and explains her position well. One must discern between Denial of Service actions as being either politically/activist oriented or criminally oriented (pay or we'll take your website down). This book is about the former and it makes the reader think about the ethics and implications of using Denial of Service as a political statement. Very well done!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kendra

    Molly Sauter's The Coming Swarm is an excellent analysis of what it means to perform civil disobedience online. It lays out the history of distributed denial of service attacks - from Electronic Disturbance Theater to the electrohippies to Anonymous. Sauter does a great job of integrating civil disobedience and political theory with online knowledge - and given how academic some parts of the book are, her style is very readable. Good reading for anyone who cares about protest online. Molly Sauter's The Coming Swarm is an excellent analysis of what it means to perform civil disobedience online. It lays out the history of distributed denial of service attacks - from Electronic Disturbance Theater to the electrohippies to Anonymous. Sauter does a great job of integrating civil disobedience and political theory with online knowledge - and given how academic some parts of the book are, her style is very readable. Good reading for anyone who cares about protest online.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Catfish

    A pretty good and concise history of DDoS actions and some of its complications in legal and ethical senses. There was a very brief and alarming part about how terrible the CFAA is. This book should be coupled with Olson's or Coleman's Anonymous books if you want the full picture. The book is focused on DDoS and civil disobedience so you won't find much on non-activist use of botnets or IoT DDoS. Overall, a good introduction! A pretty good and concise history of DDoS actions and some of its complications in legal and ethical senses. There was a very brief and alarming part about how terrible the CFAA is. This book should be coupled with Olson's or Coleman's Anonymous books if you want the full picture. The book is focused on DDoS and civil disobedience so you won't find much on non-activist use of botnets or IoT DDoS. Overall, a good introduction!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Usman Khaliq

    A very interesting take on how DDoS attacks on websites perpetrated by Anonymous and other online groups are in line with traditional civil disobedience tactics, and how the internet is boxing out "fringe" groups from having their voices heard. The book presents a very convincing case on how the internet is morphing into a collection of "private" spaces, and why this is a troubling trend for the future of individual freedom in our ever-connected world. A very interesting take on how DDoS attacks on websites perpetrated by Anonymous and other online groups are in line with traditional civil disobedience tactics, and how the internet is boxing out "fringe" groups from having their voices heard. The book presents a very convincing case on how the internet is morphing into a collection of "private" spaces, and why this is a troubling trend for the future of individual freedom in our ever-connected world.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Eve

    I almost wish this book was written backwards. The bulk of the book feels fluffy compared to the punch of the last chapter. I stayed with it though because The Coming Swarm is quite clearly and coherently written for an academic text. It didn't feel like work to consume and left me thinking for sure. I almost wish this book was written backwards. The bulk of the book feels fluffy compared to the punch of the last chapter. I stayed with it though because The Coming Swarm is quite clearly and coherently written for an academic text. It didn't feel like work to consume and left me thinking for sure.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Robert Dan

    An in-depth, multifaceted examination of DDoS in politically driven hacktivism alongside an interesting exploration of the Internet--means of communication or public space?

  13. 4 out of 5

    Subhajit Das

  14. 4 out of 5

    Meghan

  15. 5 out of 5

    John Palfrey

  16. 4 out of 5

    Raphael

  17. 5 out of 5

    Cara M

  18. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

  19. 5 out of 5

    Aurica

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lakulin

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sam DiBella

  22. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gordon

  24. 4 out of 5

    Carsten

  25. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Imafuji

  26. 4 out of 5

    TEELOCK Mithilesh

  27. 5 out of 5

    Arnand Pillay

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cecilia Dunbar Hernandez

  29. 4 out of 5

    Geørge

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ian

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