Defense of the digital home

Anonymous – Cyberguerilla in the Infowar

In July, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange sought asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. When in mid-August the British government threatened Ecuador with the storming of the embassy, this was not the fine English way, but a provocation of the people’s right. The diplomatic misstep showed once again the importance attached to the case of Assange and his disclosure portal, since the sovereignty of embassies is suspended only in a state of war. Is Wikileaks at war?

World War III is a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation.


With doxing and DDoS attacks Anonymous fights against many self-declared big and small ubels, but above all against censorship and for free information on the Internet. Although the methods have been part of the repertoire of digital activists since the late 1990s, virtual sit-ins have only been perceived as effective practices of political participation on the net since the collective’s crudely designed actions. The fact that Anonymous, because of its unconventional approach, was unintentionally called a "cyberguerrilla" The collective, which has been described as a guerrilla movement for a long time, goes beyond the media rhetoric of an exaggerated simplification: through its network form, the collective appropriates essential characteristics of the guerrillas of the old days – and transfers them to the new form "Infowar" of our digital age.

The Infowar is a knowledge war, a struggle for information and disinformation, an advanced psychological warfare, which does not depend on physical violence to achieve its goals. In the context of the 1998 Ars electronica, which was organized under the title Infowar, it was said that the Infowar establishes, in addition to land, sea and air, a "fourth front" within the global information systems, which would "human mind" itself as a target.

As John Arquilla and David Ronfeld propagate, the Infowar is a "neo-cortical warfare" and the challenge of its actors is fundamentally "epistemological". As the cornerstone of thinking, knowledge in the infowar thus forms the new paradigm of power and – like the software for the user – the intellectual framework in which action appears possible. In infowars, the same goals apply as in physical warfare: to make the enemy do one’s will – but not by coercion, but by manipulating the formation of the will.

In view of such predictions, it is not particularly surprising that a hacker collective with an (albeit indifferent) need for democratic enlightenment should be given the stamp of a "Cyberguerilla" gets missed. While the hacker is not necessarily characterized by a strong political commitment, he does have a playful and autodidactic approach to given structures: following the principle of "trial and error" his interest is in the "program code" and the (as yet) undiscovered possibilities it contains. From an epistemological point of view, the hacker is therefore a sensitive figure, which immediately makes him an experienced "infowarrior" whose methods seem comparable to the irregular operations of guerrillas.

Early in the controversy surrounding the whistleblower portal Wikileaks, John P tweeted. Barlow in December 2010: "The first serious infowar is now engaged. The field of battle is Wikileaks. You are the troops. #Wikileaks." Supporting Wikileaks in its commitment to free information, Anonymous immediately entered the fray with Operation: Payback. In a press release on the ensuing DDoS attacks, the collective stressed that the goal was never to cripple the actual infrastructure of the companies. Rather, the overloading of the web pages had created a "symbolic action" which is based on the "public face" of the corporations in order to attract public attention.

The same goal is pursued by so-called doxing, which refers to the research and targeted publication (leak) of private or secret data, as practiced by Wikileaks itself. In both cases, these are common methods of the infowar, which increase civil society interest through the targeted publication of information and influence or even bring about decisions in the first place. Anonymous hacks the form of political participation by publishing relevant data and giving certain events increased media attention.

Emerges in the midst of the freely "information on the Net, the Internet citizens see themselves as "Internet citizen" in their struggle with free information for as defenders of their own, albeit virtual, homeland "homeland". The reform attempts SOPA, PIPA, ACTA etc. Can thus be seen as supranational and heterogeneous "Occupy" in the conflict over applicable law and sovereignty on the Net, these, together with Wikileaks, generated by far the most violent protests. As a collective born out of media networking, the defense of the homeland for the "cyberguerrilla" is to secure free access to the flow of information and to maintain it.

A digital guerrilla tactic

Anonymous coordinates its DDoS attacks through networks, briefly pooling the power of the dispersed collective in space and time – and taking the affected website offline. Like the guerrilla, who changes from one moment to the next between the role of the civilian and the role of the freedom fighter, in order to keep his own risk low and the surprise effect high, the collective acts in a similarly irregular way. While high mobility has always been vital for guerrilla survival, Anonymous today uses the speed of digital data streams to emerge like a swarm of bees from the digital underground and reappear in a flash – undetected, effective and unpredictable, a (digital) guerrilla tactic.

As a transitional movement in the process of political power shifts, the guerrilla has always had a dual revolutionary momentum. On the one hand, it promotes the desired change, but on the other hand, it already carries the desired spiritual change within itself. It embodies at the same time "medium" and "Movens" of the political upheaval.1 Anonymous seems to implement this adequately in terms of media technology through open, global-local and hierarchy-free networking. The democratic self-understanding is in harmony with the organization through the networks used, because instead of being a blob means, it becomes an end itself: For the "medium" of resistance, the possibilities of the Internet as a medium, in the face of worldwide networking, become themselves a "Movens" of a global democratic change – at least according to the "Idea" and hope of Anonymous.

In view of the talk of the Infowar, one may now want to create a Guerilla 2.0 and immediately claim this status for Anonymous. However, the transferability is ultimately based on the communication strategy of both movements, which the infowar has fundamentally adopted: if instead of violence, information itself is now the medium of conflict, this conflict already experiences a temporal and spatial expansion through the global-archival character of the Internet, as is typical for guerrilla warfare according to Herfried Munkler2.

Instead of a centered, nationally rooted population, supranational, decentralized and networked communities of interest now form the backbone of possible infowar actors. The irregular aspects of guerrilla warfare are becoming the new regular principles in the struggle for knowledge and opinion sovereignty in the face of a mechanized infowar. To determine the state of exception first requires control over the (regular) state of information from which the exception deviates accordingly – therein lies the sovereignty of the digital age. In this sense Anonymous is a power.

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