Anonymous, an activist collective (it does not like to be called a group) known to hack the websites of governments and companies worldwide if it believes they impinge on Internet privacy or the freedom of speech, has planned attacks on Indian portals from 9 June to protest censorship of content in the country.
An Anonymous hacker, who used the pseudonym <~BitMentor> to moderate an online conference of the collective on Friday, made the announcement and pasted a link containing a list of sites allegedly blocked by Reliance Communications Ltd without a court order.
“Reliance is not going to be the only one, any and all who try to kill free speech and Internet freedom will have the same effect,” BitMentor said in the Web chat.
Anonymous is a secretive Internet meme that originated in 2003, its members largely unknown to each other, to fight any move it deems is against free speech on the Internet.
India’s government has in recent months attempted to prevent the creation or circulation of online content that may be deemed objectionable, drawing online protests.
And earlier this month, the Madras high court directed Reliance Entertainment Pvt. Ltd, a Reliance Group company, to block specific video-sharing websites in response to a petition by the producers of the Tamil movie 3, popular for its Kolaveri song.
Anonymous, the so-called hacktivist collective, in retaliation targeted Big Cinemas, the multiplex chain of the Anil Ambani-promoted Reliance Group, hacking its website earlier this week and accessing information on its customers in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu.
“When we first hacked into Reliance, they realized that we had the list... You (Reliance) tried to change our passwords and tried everything you know to stop us. Stop attacking people and their freedom and we will stop... Why has Reliance blocked Air India employees’ protest page on Facebook? Did the court issue an order for that too?” reads the message on the page containing the list of sites Reliance has allegedly blocked without a court order.
Big Cinemas confirmed that its server was attacked a few days ago by the hacktivists, following which it shut the website and redirected customers to book movie tickets through bookmyshow.com, an aggregator of movie and theatre tickets.
“Big Cinemas’ server was attacked and we are working on strengthening security of our IT systems. As an immediate step, we have through Reliance Communications enabled cloud Web application firewall and distributed denial-of-service protection (solutions) to secure our customers’ information,” said Avinash Jhangiani, head of information technology at Big Cinemas.
The company said it has moved consumer data to an unknown server, is enhancing its IT infrastructure and will revamp its website in two-three months. “We have now stopped this booking option for our Coimbatore customers. We do not provide this service for rest of India anyway,” Jhangiani said.
The hactivists had gained access to information on credit and debit cards of Big Cinemas customers, as well as details on the movies booked and the ticket prices.
Anonymous leaked some of this information during the Web chat, which Mint has reviewed. The information showed that the data were of customers who had booked tickets between 9 May and 20 May for Tamil films Vazhaku En, Kalakalappu, and Oru Kal Oru Kannadi, and Malayalam movie Grandmaster.
“What if we had taken the credit card details and made it public from the site? But we are nothing compared to the hackers who may have already hacked and used the credit card data,” said Bit Mentor.
Experts said that the online protests stemmed from the wholesale blocking of sites.
“Internet service providers (ISPs) are blundering by blocking the entire website instead of just the objectionable content. This has led to people feeling that their right to access legitimate content is being curbed,” said Pavan Duggal, a Supreme Court advocate and a cyber law expert. “Such users/affected persons can sue the ISPs under the IT Act for up to Rs. 5 crore damages by way of compensation. In addition, the leading management of the ISPs can face criminal charges and be punished with imprisonment for 3 years.”
He added: “The only way forward for ISPs is to go through a proper due diligence of blocking not the entire website but only content that is in question.”
On Friday, during the same online conferance, Anonymous uploaded a video on YouTube stating, “Y U NO Wake up?... Today they cage your websites for playing their music. Tomorrow they will cage you for singing them... Make a Guy Fawkes mask (V for Vendetta / Anonymous).”
Anonymous attacks are not new to the country or the world. On 17 May, even as the government declined to support a move to annul the country’s IT (intermediaries guidelines) Rules 2011, Anonymous hactivists hacked the websites of the Supreme Court and the ruling Congress party to register their protest against the government’s bid to curb online access after several video-sharing websites were banned.
In the US, on 22 May, Anonymous released a massive cache of data it said its hacktivists obtained when they hacked a website belonging to the US Department of Justice. They claimed the file contained emails as well as “the entire database dump” from the department’s website.