Friday's Front Page Spins Pro-Wikileaks Hackers as Defenders of Web Freedom

Reporter Noam Cohen, who covers the Internet, treated the criminal denial of service attacks committed in support of the secret cable leakers at Wikileaks as activism done by cool people with a cause in his Friday front-page story "Web Attackers Point to Cause In WikiLeaks."

The text box: "Cyberpranksters evolve into a political movement seeking an unfettered Internet," demonstrated that the Times missed the irony of hackers shutting down web-sites in the name of an "unfettered Internet."

Cohen did his best to make the hackers sound mischievous, not malicious:

They got their start years ago as cyberpranksters, an online community of tech-savvy kids more interested in making mischief than political statements.

But the coordinated attacks on major corporate and government Web sites in defense of WikiLeaks, which began on Wednesday and continued on Thursday, suggested that the loosely organized group called Anonymous might have come of age, evolving into one focused on more serious matters: in this case, the definition of Internet freedom.

While the attacks on such behemoths as MasterCard, Visa and PayPal were not nearly as sophisticated as some less publicized assaults, they were a step forward in the group's larger battle against what it sees as increasing control of the Internet by corporations and governments. This week they found a cause and an icon: Julian Assange, the former hacker who founded WikiLeaks and is now in a London jail at the request of the Swedish authorities investigating him on accusations of rape.

"This is kind of the shot heard round the world - this is Lexington," said John Perry Barlow, a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties organization that advocates for a freer Internet.

Cohen maintained his simplistic metaphor of scrappy rebels fighting the corporate Death Star.

The attacks thus far have been of limited effect, shutting down the MasterCard Web site, not its online transactions.

But to security experts and people who have tracked or participated in the Anonymous movement, they indicated a step forward for cyberanarchists railing against the "elites" - corporations and governments with power over both the machinery and, critics increasingly argue, the content on the Web.

Cohen took until paragraph 25 of 31 to squeeze in a discouraging word, and even that came from Barlow, who had previously raved that the attacks constituted "a shot heard round the world."

But even Mr. Barlow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation appeared to have second thoughts about where such escalation could lead: On Thursday, he said that the Anonymous group members represented "a stunning force in the world.

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