Can Anonymous hack Donald Trump's online presence

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On March 11th at 1:55 pm the website of the party “Alternative for Germany” (AfD) recorded over 1.6 million hits - per second. Was that the great moment of the AfD online presence? No, it was a DDoS attack (Distributed Denial of Service): attackers bombard a website's server with so many requests that it collapses. And until this, as in the case of the AfD side - a few days before the state elections in three federal states - is paralyzed for several hours.

Some hackers call such an attack a “sit-in” and welcome it as political activism. Others call it “censorship” and strictly reject such attacks. Still other hackers think that it all depends on who you are targeting and why. And then there are those who don't even care about motivation. Motto: The strongest wins.

The question of what is morally justifiable is being asked more and more in times of whistleblowers and cyberwars

When is a hacker a good hacker? Is it okay to hack "for the lulz" for fun? Publish personal data to identify fake profiles, like in the hack of the affair portal Ashley Madison? Are you allowed to search for security holes on behalf of a company, and is it legitimate to hack for corporations that do arms deals? Or to build a Trojan for the state?
The question of what is morally justifiable and what is not is asked more and more often, especially in times of whistleblowers and cyberwars - inside and outside the hacker scene.

From a legal point of view, it is not entirely clear what hackers are allowed to do: The so-called hacker paragraph, Section 202c of the German Criminal Code, makes “preparing to spy on and intercept data” a criminal offense. Because the wording of the law is very vague, it is criticized by security experts and hackers: The paragraph does not make the Internet safer, but criminalizes hacker tools across the board - regardless of the purposes for which they are used.

In addition to the law, there is the so-called hacker ethics: guidelines that hackers can adhere to and that the Chaos Computer Club (CCC), the largest European hacker association, refers to in the welcome text on its homepage. In addition to demands such as that information must be free, authorities should be mistrusted and decentralization should be promoted, there are statements that have little or nothing to do with ethical decision-making support: “You can create art and beauty with a computer” or: “Computers can change your life for the better ”. The eight commandments of hacking do not provide very satisfactory answers to pressing ethical questions.

"The original ethic comes from a time when people were still afraid of computers"

"The original ethics comes from a time when people were still afraid of computers," says the hacker Stephan Urbach, who made a significant contribution to the discussion about a new ethic with a blog entry, in an interview with fluter.de. Its origin lies in the book "Hackers - Heroes of the Computer Revolution". In 1984, the author Steven Levy formulated six postulates, which the Chaos Computer Club added two more a few years later: One should not “junk” other people's data, use public data and protect private ones.

“The ethics we have let us play and have fun a lot. But it does not show responsible behavior, ”criticizes Urbach and adds:“ Because it is not really ethical at all. ”For example, it does not give reliable answers to the Kantian question“ What should I do? ”.

"At that time, we as a hacker group decided to ignore the decision of a sovereign state to raise ourselves morally above the government"

The 35-year-old Urbach became known for his commitment to the network activists "Telecomix", who ensured secure internet connections in crisis countries during the Arab Spring. His old modem, which Egyptians used to go online when the then head of state Mubarak switched off the network, is now in the German Museum of Technology in Berlin. "At that time, we as a hacker group decided to ignore the decision of a sovereign state to morally elevate ourselves above the government," says Urbach and adds: "Because we thought it was wrong." When a hack is legitimate and when not, for it urgently need standards.

One who has tried to formulate concrete rules is the computer scientist and blogger Jürgen Geuter, alias "aunt". He presented his draft of a more contemporary hacker ethic at the "Sigint" in Cologne, an event organized by the CCC. That was in 2012, when Geuter was still a member of the club. In his proposal, “aunt” also referred to Kant: his categorical imperative - “Act in such a way that the maxim of your will can at any time also apply as the principle of general legislation” - he called for as a philosophical foundation. Geuter formulated nine rules at the time and put two basic assumptions in front of them. First: data are neutral objects. It is only when they are used that they make something good or bad. Second: Everyone has the basic right to communicate and to express his or her opinions, ideas, thoughts and desires.

Geuter's draft thus distinguishes itself from groups such as “Anonymous”, who are not so strict about freedom of expression and who target people who think differently, such as Donald Trump. One should therefore “protect the interests of individuals”, it says at one point in the draft, “do not form elites” in another, hackers should “build instead of destroy” and “do not allow themselves to be misused as a tool”.

Many did not like the idea of ​​being told what to do and what not to do

After Geuter's lecture, numerous bloggers discussed the draft, media such as Zeit Online, Spiegel Online or sueddeutsche.de reported, and there was also lively discussion within the scene. The tabular web document in which Geuter published his draft for collaborative editing is now over 1,600 lines long and over 60 authors have contributed to it. But in addition to positive reactions, there was also a lot of criticism: Geuter received hate and threatening emails, and his server was attacked several times. Many did not like the idea of ​​being told what to do and what not to do. "Libertarian thinking is very strong in the community," says Geuter four years later in an interview with fluter.de.

The CCC was also critical at the time and rejected the proposal: "We have done well with the old hacker ethics so far," said Frank Rieger in 2012, one of the spokesmen for the Chaos Computer Club. Jürgen Geuter's new approach is too apolitical for him, but he considers at least an update of the original CCC rules to be sensible.

However, nothing recognizable has happened in the four years since Geuter's lecture. On its website, the CCC states that the hacker ethic is in "constant further development and discussion" and that suggestions for improvement are always welcome. The CCC did not respond to repeated inquiries from fluter.de as to what this further development and discussion would look like in concrete terms.

"The implementation would be too much for an association like the CCC and would certainly lead to internal disputes."

Observers of the scene refer to the structure of the CCC, for example Jan-Peter Kleinhans from the “New Responsibility Foundation”. He emphasizes that the CCC is neither a strictly organized association nor does it represent a homogeneous ideology. "Even people at the top of the association - and it almost doesn't matter what topic you ask them about - take very different positions," says Kleinhans. He finds the call for a hacker ethic understandable, but the implementation would "represent excessive demands for an association like the CCC and certainly lead to internal disputes."

And what is happening on an international level? What is already difficult nationally is all the more challenging globally. The views are simply too different, says Stephan Urbach, citing the USA as an example. For many American hackers, being a hacker and working for the military or other government institutions is no contradiction at all. Attempts to initiate a discussion would usually be turned off. The community delimits itself hermetically.

It remains to be seen whether there will be a really constructive debate about hacker ethics in the near future. So far, one thing is certain: some observers inside and outside the scene consider it to be urgently necessary - and many of them are the first to look towards the CCC. But who actually says that only hackers can develop a hacker ethic? In view of the size and importance of the digital in today's world, the discussion should perhaps also be hung higher and include more social actors. As has long been the case with ethical issues in medicine, for example.

Jürgen Geuter is a computer scientist, blogger and known on the net under the pseudonym "aunt". In 2015 he wrote a column for Wired Germany about the power of algorithms and currently works for the software company Boom Software. Geuter was invited to the Federal Ministry of the Interior in 2014 as an expert on the EU General Data Protection Regulation.

The hacker Stephan Urbach was a member of the German pirate party until 2013. Today he is an author and project manager at the “Renewable Freedom Foundation”, which deals with human rights in the digital age. In his 2015 book “Neustart. From the life of a network activist ”, Urbach tells how he became depressed from sheer sacrifice and why hackers should watch out for each other.

GIF: Anthony Antonellis