Joshua McLaurin


In December 2010, the British government braced itself for a sudden threat: Overnight, tens of thousands of people had acquired a weapon called the Low Orbit lon Cannon (LOIC). The good news for British authorities was that this "cannon" is not actually a space laser or hardly even a weapon; it is an old diagnostic computer program that allows an individual to test a network's capacity to handle traffic by sending information to the network's servers. The bad news was that a nebulous online hacking collective called Anonymous was successfully encouraging these tens of thousands of people to use this tool to disrupt the availability of the websites of a few major corporations. The program allowed individuals to participate in organized attempts to overwhelm each company's servers with information-so much information that those servers could not process other users' normal requests for access. The goal of this type of assault, known as a denial-of-service (DOS) attack, is to disrupt a target organization's online presence for as long as the attacking computers continue to send such information. The immediate consequence of a successful attack is somewhat anticlimactic: The target organization's website simply fails to load upon request. Nevertheless, the idea that thousands of nameless, faceless individuals could have banded together to produce that result adds social significance to what would otherwise be a purely technical problem.

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