Anonymous goes nuclear; everybody loses?

With #OpMegaUpload, Anonymous launches the equivalent of thermonuclear cyber war. What will be the consequence--and worse, did Anonymous just get played?

Molly Wood Former Executive Editor
Molly Wood was an executive editor at CNET, author of the Molly Rants blog, and host of the tech show, Always On. When she's not enraging fanboys of all stripes, she can be found offering tech opinions on CBS and elsewhere, and offering opinions on everything else to anyone who will listen.
Molly Wood
2 min read
#OpMegaUpload: like watching "War Games" play out, but with cyber-bombs.
#OpMegaUpload: like watching "War Games" play out, but with cyber-bombs.

In the aftermath of Wednesday's SOPA/PIPA blackout protests, the Internet community amassed quite a bit of goodwill, flexed its muscles in a friendly, humorous, civil-disobedience kind of way, and, remarkably, even managed to change quite a few minds.

Just 24 short hours later, Anonymous legions nuked that goodwill and took cyber security into thermonuclear territory. The real question now is: were they played?

As I write this, #OpMegaUpload is in full effect. The Internet is seemingly coming down all around me. Global Internet traffic is fluctuating between 13 percent and 14 percent above normal, and, as you can see from the above image, global network attacks were up 24 percent. Affected sites include the White House, the FBI, the Department of Justice, multiple record label sites, the MPAA, and RIAA, and the U.S. Copyright Office.

The attacks were spawned by a large-scale indictment and the arrest of four people associated with a hosting and storage site called Megaupload, all accused of online piracy.

In a collective rage, Anonymous lashed out with the force of a cyber-nuke. The display of power is awesome--there will be a lot of high-fiving hackers tonight, that's for sure. And given the massive power of the legions, this story will get more attention in just a few hours than the SOPA/PIPA blackouts ever did. WIN!

But then the other shoe will drop.

My sources tell me the timing of the MegaUpload arrests was no accident. The federal government, they say, was spoiling for a fight after the apparent defeat of SOPA/PIPA and not a little humiliation at the hands of the Web. And what better way to bolster the cause for cyber-crackdown than by pointing to a massive display of cyber-terrorism at the hands of everyone's favorite Internet boogeyman: Anonymous?

If the SOPA/PIPA protests were the Web's moment of inspiring, non-violent, hand-holding civil disobedience, #OpMegaUpload feels like the unsettling wave of car-burning hooligans that sweep in and incite the riot portion of the play. The result is always riot gear, tear gas, arrests, injury, and a sea of knee-jerk policies, laws, and reactions that address the destructive actions of a few, and not the good intentions of the many.

I don't truly know whether Anonymous was cleverly goaded into #OpMegaUpload. But I do know that an attack this big on this many government sites will effectively erase those good Internet vibrations that were rattling around Capitol Hill this week and harden the perspective of legislators and law enforcement who want to believe that the Web community is made up of wild, law-breaking pirates. That, ultimately, may help strengthen the business--and the emotional--case for the pro-SOPA, pro-PIPA lobby. Did the feds just get the last lulz?