IN LATE January several state-sector websites went down for several hours after being attacked by hackers who claimed to be associated with the international group Anonymous. They said they were expressing their disagreement with Slovakia’s planned ratification of the international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). The group also said that its actions were intended to express support for the January 27 rally in Bratislava dubbed Gorilla Protest, which came as a response to the so-called Gorilla file, a document leaked onto the internet which contains apparent transcripts from an intelligence service bugging operation in 2005-6 that implied high-level political corruption.
While the supporters of ACTA claim that the treaty will establish an international institutional framework to fight against plagiarism and to solve conflicts between copyright holders and end users, its opponents claim that the treaty could restrict the freedom of the internet, and might in turn lead to internet censorship and border restrictions, with customs officers empowered to check laptops or music players for illegally copied software or files, the SITA newswire wrote.
“We will continue to turn off the websites until members of the Slovak government guarantee that they will not sign this act,” reads a statement by Anonymous published on the website of the Sme daily.
The movement has hacked several government websites, including the internet site of the Government Office and the ministries of finance, interior and justice.
Slovakia’s politicians have been rather careful in their comments about the eventual ratification of ACTA, which has already been signed by 22 EU countries. The agreement includes measures to protect the intellectual property of authors. It also defines the responsibilities of internet administrators as well as establishing a duty to reveal the identity of users of sites suspected of copyright violations. Among others, critics object that the current version of ACTA was presented during a session of EU ministers of agriculture.
Slovakia’s Ministry of Economy is to submit a concept of the treaty for inter-departmental review in the next few weeks.
Anonymous got its first local mention in the Slovak media when it associated with Czech hackers to attack the internet site of the Czech Anti-Piracy Union (ČPU) which supported the enforced closure of the internet cyberlocker service Megaupload.com, whose administrators have been charged in the USA with violating various copyrights and harming the original authors of shared files, SITA reported.
Later the movement addressed a message to a new political party, 99 Percent – Civic Voice, which it accused of stealing the motto of the Occupy Wall Street movement, saying that such a deed could not go unpunished, Sme wrote.
During the Gorilla Protest on January 27 the movement hacked the internet sites of the Penta financial group and Prima Banka (formerly Dexia Banka Slovensko; now owned by Penta), as well as those of two political parties, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) and Smer.
Members of Anonymous also attacked the website of Aquapark Tatralandia, a resort owned by the J&T financial group, where they left their Guy Fawkes-style mask logo, a symbol of the movement. After parliament announced that it had filed a complaint against protesters for causing damage to the building of the National Assembly, Anonymous hacked the internet site of parliament.
Political parties criticise ACTA
Several political parties, from both the government and the opposition, said that the current version of ACTA still has some imperfections.
Representatives of the SDKÚ said that even though they support the protection of intellectual property, they disagree with the current version of the treaty.
“The entire process of the preparation of this agreement raises suspicion, because it was presented to the ministerial council for agriculture,” said SDKÚ MP Ivan Štefanec, as quoted by the TASR newswire. He added that the treaty does not just contain measures which will restrict internet freedom, but also free competition.
Most-Híd said it would comment on the treaty only once it had an up-to-date version, while the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) said it would not support ratification of the treaty “as submitted”. Slovakia has yet to sign the treaty.
Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) said it was unlikely to vote for it because of “serious concerns about whether the ACTA trade agreement does not violate basic human rights, such as freedom of the individual or the right to privacy”, SITA reported.
The text is not written very well as it contains many vague formulations which create space for national governments to pass restrictions against citizens, disguised as protection of human rights, Miroslav Šmál from Smer party’s press department told The Slovak Spectator. He said his party appreciated the efforts of Anonymous to warn against the risks of the agreement and added that Smer considers the attacks a frank effort to turn attention to the problems ACTA could bring.
“ACTA has only one advantage,” Šmál told The Slovak Spectator. “Finally there is a document which will deal with protection of copyright.”
Who or what is Anonymous?
Anonymous is an independent movement without any official structure or hierarchy, which has become known for using as its symbol a mask resembling the face of Guy Fawkes, a British Catholic who was executed in the 17th century after a failed plot to assassinate King James I of England.
The mask was later used in the comic-book series and film ‘V for Vendetta’, whose main character wore the mask, which became the symbol of his fight against government iniquity, according to the website Slate.com. The typical form of attack used by Anonymous is a DDoS, or distributed denial of service, in which hackers overload a website’s servers with so many requests that it is rendered inaccessible for other users.
The Anonymous name appeared for the first time in 2003 in articles published on the message board of the internet site 4Chan.org. The group also supported protesters during the Arab spring at the beginning of 2011, SITA wrote.
Anonymous also grabbed the attention of the media at the beginning of 2012 when its members hacked the internet sites of several American institutions to protest against the enforced closure of the internet site Megaupload.com.