Xeni on Madeleine Brand radio show: Wikileaks, Anonymous, Mastercard DDOS, Operation Payback


I joined my former NPR colleague Madeleine Brand on her new, eponymous radio show today, for a discussion on the spy-versus-spy hacker wars around Wikileaks, including the "Operation Payback" DDOS attack that took down Mastercard.com.

As a Today Show bubblehead mis-quipped on TV earlier, "I sure hope they get that fixed soon for all the holiday shoppers."

LISTEN: Madeleine Brand Show radio segment here (audio embed or download).

Bonus: At the end of this clip, Madeleine Brand Show producer and reporter Steve Proffitt takes a few moments to explain what a DDOS is.

(image: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images, via scpr.org. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, shown at a press conference on Nov. 4, 2010 in Geneva.)


  1. I think its time for people to stop calling the Operation Payback DoS campaign an attack. It is protest. A hyper-modern form of protest. We cannot allow the label “terrorism” to be applied to new forms of protest just because its convenient for those in power. Virtual sit-in for the lulz.

    1. Describing it as a “DDOS attack” isn’t a judgement against Anonymous, or a way to say this isn’t protest. “Distributed Denial Of Service Attack” is the technical name for what happened to mastercard.com today.

  2. Xeni you’re right, I think the terminology needs to change. A name that suggests violence does a disservice to the protesters, whose actions are nonviolent. It instantly creates a negative connotation amongst the huge number of people who do not support violent protest tactics.

    1. Anything that materially interferes with the orderly creation, distribution, and consumption of death, pain, and bullshit will be labeled “violence” in the respectable media. That’s just how it is. Better to assume any use of the word is propaganda, like “terrorism” and “extremism.”

  3. As a system admin, it is an attack. Calling it a Distributed Denial of Services Noogie so that the muggles don’t think it involves cutlasses, trebuchets, or balisong knives doesn’t alter the fact that it is an attack.

  4. That’s the terminology for it. Changing the name doesn’t change what it is. Doubleplusungood to think that it does.

    And frankly, in terms of the internet, it is a very violent action. You are malevolently sending massive amounts of traffic to a site for the sole purpose of making it unavailable to other users. It is an attack on information transfer. The only reason you want to make it not an attack is because it’s being used to defend something you want defended. That kind of attitude is exactly what you see every day from every kind of self-righteous organization around the world. Wars aren’t wars anymore, they’re ‘peacekeeping actions’ or ‘preemptive strikes’. I’ll die if the internet goes 1984 on me too.

    It certainly isn’t terrorism, unless you’re a special kind of hysterical, but it certainly is an attack. Don’t be so innocent as to believe that Machiavellian thought doesn’t apply to this day and age. As a protester, person, government, whatever, you do what works to achieve your ends, if you really believe in what you are fighting for.

  5. I dunno, you puff up the ‘attackiness’ of a DDOS (which turns to fairy leaves after the attackers get bored or call off the bots) and if you’re not careful, you’re in the same definition-creep areas that classify a Megatron t-shirt as terrorism and flatulence as a WMD.

    It’s an effective, disruptive protest. That’s for sure.

  6. With less win than f.,…;)

    I think activists should own their tactics. If you want a DDOS protest to be even vaguely nonviolent, you express your issues in advance, negotitiate with the opposite numbers, and act peaceably and in a coordinated manner if negotiations break down. And generally, nonviolent action involves named actors representing a known constituency. You know, like Eugene Debs, MLK, or Julian Assange (at least in part).

    Anon selects a target to punish them – pretty much the definition of an attack. They encourage anger and hate as a group, which is also anaethma to nonviolent action.

    There is an honorable place in history for Emma Goldman and Malcolm X – I’ve yet to be convinced that Anon is anything but torches and pitchforks, but I hope to be convinced in time.

    Regardless, it’s protest, it’s demonstration – but with or without the technical term, it’s an attack.

  7. It is an attack. They choose not to agree with wikileaks. Isn’t it their right to choose to do so or not. What gives you the right to stop their lawful ability to be a business partner or not. Isn’t it their right to choose to do so or not. What gives these cyber terrorists the right to stop their lawful ability to fund or not fund whomever they want. Good work those who cyber attack American companies, you and the Chinese can continue to hurt America!! I propose more money for cyber-protection of critical institutions.

    1. Wilikieaks is about as responsible for this as that cat was for making a pariah out of that British woman.

  8. Surely the closest real world comparison to the DoS against MasterCard etc. is a picket line in front of a business?

    Most civilised countries would see this is as a right of citizens rather than a terrorist incident …

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