The Secret to Good old Mudslinging: How to do it Online

It’s an election year. Imagine that you are a leading opposition politician, an aspiring presidential candidate in fact. You wake up Thursday morning to find shocking headlines in a leading daily newspaper: Criminals have broken into your website and somehow redirected it to a rival politician’s site, telling the whole world that you support your rival. Your rival is in fact the guy you’re facing off against for your party’s presidential ticket. You read on and discover that your party’s site has also been similarly attacked to redirect visitors to the incumbent government’s site which openly attacks your party. This might seem like a bad dream to you but it is, in fact, what happened in Kenya this week.

For those of you not familiar with Kenyan politics: 2007 is an election year with the main opposition party being ODM-K whose numerous frontrunners are squaring it off for the party’s presidential ticket. Kalonzo Musyoka and Raila Odinga are two of ODM-K’s leading lights. The Standard is a leading Daily in Kenya. Having introduced the cast, we’ll now go back to our story.

On Thursday, the Standard’s headline story was of how Kalonzo’s site had been attacked and made to redirect visitors to Raila’s site. In turn, ODM-K’s site was similarly redirected to the incumbent government’s site.

Oh wait, but the plot thickens! It turns out that Kalonzo’s real website was not attacked at all and neither was ODM-K’s real website. As it turns out, some criminals had set up fake websites and thus caused all this confusion and hullabaloo. This is called phishing.

Suppose you were one of these criminals. After setting up your fake Kalonzo website, all you need is for someone to come and publicize the fact that Kalonzo’s ‘website’ has been cracked so that your phishing would have its desired effects. The effect, of course, is that of creating confusion and chaos within ODM-K, among its luminaries, and the electorate. You know full well that no one will accidentally come across your fake site because the whole world already knows the url of Kalonzo’s real site – he launched it gallantly and loudly a short while ago. One thought is troubling your little criminal mind: how do you get people to notice your fake website? You have to find a sneezer!

What if you ‘passed on’ the news of Kalonzo’s site having been attacked to a leading newspaper in the hopes of them publicizing your criminal feat? After all, the perfect sneezer would be a leading newspaper. I believe that is exactly what happened. The Standard Newspaper was used.

Personally, this proves that politics is an extremely dirty game which, ideally, should not be tried at home. I do not care much for politics but I find this story intriguing and, inevitably, I have to say that the guys behind it did a real good job. Above all, this incident makes me happy. It’s sad that somebody was used and others’ feelings were hurt but having it happen online has its goodness. The more we use the internet (even for criminal purposes), the more useful it becomes. We should all learn from this sad episode.

UPDATES
As I write this, both fake websites redirect visitors to pages belonging to the Daily Nation, another major Daily in Kenya and a competitor of The Standard.

The Link to The Standard’s Headline Story:
http://www.eastandard.net/hm_news/news.php?articleid=1143965194

The Fake websites:
http://www.odm-kenya.org
http://www.kalonzofoundation.org

The Real Websites:
http://www.odmk.org/
http://www.kalonzomusyokafoundation.org/

To Standard Newspapers Editor

Dear Editor,

I refer to your headline article, Nasty cyber wars as Kalonzo website is hackeddated Thursday the 22nd of February 2006. In that article, you have mistakenly misused the terms ‘hacker’ and ‘hacking’. You refer to hackers as intelligent computer programmers or idle, often malicious, people with administrator privileges. In your news story, you give the impression that hacking is wrong, malicious and even criminal. This is simply scandalous!

The terms hacker and hacking have been given a bad name by the media, thus giving all an impression of how little many people know about hacking. This has created a definition controversy worldwide. In actual fact, hacking is not bad or evil at all. It is good and even necessary. Hacking is the desire to fully understand something. A “computer hacker,” then, is someone who lives and breathes computers, who knows all about computers, who can get a computer to do anything. Equally important, though, is the hacker’s attitude. (http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~bh/hacker.html) Real hackers live by certain hacker ethics. From wikipedia.org, these are:

  • the belief that information-sharing is a powerful positive good, and that it is an ethical duty of hackers to share their expertise by writing free software and facilitating access to information and computing resources wherever possible; and/or
  • the belief that system cracking for fun and exploration is ethically acceptable as long as the hacker commits no theft, vandalism, or breach of confidentiality.

Hackers built the Internet. Hackers made the Unix operating system what it is today. Hackers run Usenet. Hackers make the World Wide Web work. The world needs hackers.

There is another group of people who loudly call themselves hackers, but aren’t. These are people (mainly adolescent males) who get a kick out of breaking into computers and phreaking the phone system. Real hackers call these people ‘crackers’ and want nothing to do with them. Real hackers mostly think crackers are lazy, irresponsible, and not very bright, and object that being able to break security doesn’t make you a hacker any more than being able to hotwire cars makes you an automotive engineer. Unfortunately, many journalists and writers have been fooled into using the word ‘hacker’ to describe crackers; this irritates real hackers no end. (http://www.catb.org/~esr/faqs/hacker-howto.html)

Those who defaced the websites decribed in your news story are not hackers but crackers. Their act was not hacing but cracking!

Netiquette: The Ten Commandments

As I have said before, and as real users of the internet know, the internet is primarily about human interaction. Naturally, this means that there arises disagreements, heated debates and rivalry often requiring moderation and adherence to netiquette.
The following are general principles of netiquette, or network etiquette:

1. Remember the human. Keep in mind that other internet users are real people with real feelings. Do not do something that you wouldn’t want to happen to you.

2. Generally, adhere to the same standards of behaviour as you do offline.

3. Lurk before you leap. Know where you are in cyberspace and get a feel of the local conventions before doing anything. For example, chat room slang such as lol or ig2g may not be acceptable in USENET.

4. Respect other people’s time and bandwidth. Before you post anything, make sure it is of benefit to those who will read it. If its in a discussion, make sure it is relevant, try to post in plain text and check spelling and grammar.

5. Before asking a question, read the FAQs.

6. Make yourself look good. Participate in discussions and post frequently, but not just so that you can see your name. Try to share your unique viewpoint, experience and/or expert knowledge.

7. Respect other people’s privacy.

8. Help to keep flame wars and other disagreements under control. Do not add fuel to the fire.
If you believe someone is wrong or hjas violated certain rules, tell him/her in private email – do not post a follow up to the offending post. Be polite as it may be an honest mistake.

9. Do not abuse your power. For example, if you’re a moderator or administrator, do not make life unnecessarily difficult for others.

10. Forgive others.

References:
1. Wikipedia, specifically here.
2. The core Rules of Netiquette.
3. Because Netiquette Matters! Your Comprehensive Reference Guide to E-mail Etiquette and Proper Technology Use

Now, to bust some jargon.
flaming – act of sending messages that are hostile and/or insulting.
flame war – a series of flaming messages
pie-fight – a type of discourse specific to the internet and characterised by heated emotional arguments about trivial issues having little to do with the regular topic of discussion.
lol – laugh out loud
ig2g – I got to go

Using Google

Undoubdtedly, google is the King of search. It is the place to go for the best search results. The question is, do you utilise all of google’s power i.e do you get the most out of google? Click below to find out:

Get the Most out of Google.
The Official Google Cheat Sheet.