Boeing's website was the target of an attack staged by the hacking collective Anonymous on Tuesday, part of a widespread hacktivism campaign against companies and trade groups that support the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. Microsoft also backs the polarizing legislation, but its sites have survived unscathed thus far.
The Twitter account @YourAnonNews posted at 12:10 p.m. Tuesday announcing that Boeing.com was "Tango Down" -- a phrase borrowed from military special forces that means a target has been killed -- as part of Anonymous' "OpDefense" campaign. Boeing's website was reportedly offline for about three hours, and still wasn't working properly as recently as early yesterday morning.
Anonymous also managed to take down the websites of TechAmerica and USTelecom, tech industry trade groups that have lobbied in favor of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA for short.
If approved by Congress, CISPA would "provide for the sharing of certain cyber threat intelligence and cyber threat information between the intelligence community and cybersecurity entities." In other words, if government agencies want data about a person's online activities, Internet service providers and private companies (i.e. Facebook) would be at their mercy.
Much like SOPA, PIPA, and other previous proposals to restrict various online activities, CISPA has drawn sharp criticism from groups such as the ACLU and the Center for Democracy and Technology. The concern is that the law could be used for spying on citizens, rather than preventing the pilfering of trade and state secrets. According to the Center for Democracy and Technology, the proposed law would create "a very broad, almost unlimited definition of the information that can be shared with government agencies notwithstanding privacy and other laws."
Anonymous, a loosely organized group of hackers and activists (hence the word "hacktivist"), believes that attacking websites is a form of protest. Sites are typically forced offline via a Distributed Denial of Service attack, a process that overwhelms servers with web traffic, causing them to crash. A posting on the Anonymous' website calls the tactic "digital sit-ins," and better describes how it works:
Distributed denial of service (DDOS) is a favorite tactic of Anonymous. While the media likes to call DDOS a form of 'hacking', this is at best a technical misunderstanding. DDOS does no permanent damage and doesn't involve breaking into servers or stealing data. Rather, it simply overwhelms a server with UDP traffic - the online equivalent of fans at a football game yelling so loud that the offensive line can't hear the quarterback.Anonymous also posted YouTube video explaining their opposition to CISPA:
A Boeing spokesman declined to discuss the recent cyber attack, and the company's support of CISPA. Despite the controversy, several large corporations in addition to Boeing have officially endorsed the legislation, including Facebook, Verizon, and Microsoft. (Click here for a complete list.)
Anonymous tweeted again yesterday afternoon vowing additional anti-CISPA cyber assaults, but if Microsoft is a potential target the hackers will have their work cut out for them. John Howie, Microsoft's senior director of online services security and compliance governance, said last year that the company has "massively overbuilt" its Internet capacity, making it virtually impenetrable to DDoS attacks.