Portuguese hackers yesterday capped a two-month protest over the Indonesian government's treatment of East Timor by breaking into the Indonesian Military Network Homepage and altering the page.
Hackers--known as crackers in the Internet community--altered two Indonesian government pages as part of what they call the East Timor Campaign. On February 10, the group started the protest by altering the Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Indonesia site, according to their own Web page.
Joao Oliveira, a Portuguese journalist with the online publication Cyber.net, said the protest was waged by five Portuguese citizens between the ages of 18 and 24.
After this first attack, Indonesian hackers countered by breaking into the East Timor site, Oliveira said. Yesterday's attack was in retaliation for the Indonesian hack. But the campaign began as "a formal protest against Indonesia," he added.
East Timor has been under Indonesian occupation since December 7, 1975, according to Charles Scheiner, the national coordinator of the East Timor Action Network in the United States. "When you have a country of 200 million occupying a country of 800,000, there's not a whole lot you can do," he said.
Indonesia is also known for limiting and controlling Net access to its citizens.
Scheiner, whose group had nothing to do with the hacking, said that people protesting the situation have used the Internet to communicate with each other, especially through mailing lists and newsgroups, to bring attention to the atrocities.
Hacking would not in and of itself achieve anything, but when a country as small as East Timor fights a country as large and repressive as Indonesia, every bit of protest helps, he said.
But hacking, worried Jonah Seiger, a spokesman for the Center for Democracy and Technology, could harm the cause more than help it.
While Seiger was sympathetic to the struggle, he said hacking as a form of protest sends the wrong message. "There are effective ways to use the Internet to promote social change," he said. "Hacking into people's Web sites creates more problems than it solves."
Hackers in the United States, for instance, have altered pages at the Central Intelligence Agency, the Justice Department, and other U.S. military pages including the Air Force in the name of protesting the Communications Decency Act, Seiger said.
But the reason for protesting is lost in the method, he added. Seiger recommends people use the Net as an organizing tool, not one of vandalism. "Personally, I don't think it's the best choice of tactics. It doesn't put the best face on the Internet community or Internet users. We find the Internet to be an incredibly effective tool of public organization and mobilization."