Cyber activists DoS Lufthansa : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Cyber activists target Lufthansa Tuesday 03 July, 2001 By JAMES NORMAN

Lufthansa became the latest target of Internet activists late last month when an internationally coordinated denial of service (DoS) attack created a powerful data storm, knocking the airline's website and online booking portal temporarily off-line.

In Germany, as in much of the Net connected world, the present wave of online activists, or "hacktivists" as they have become known, are mixing the old with the new in their methods of civil disobedience.

Posters were plastered all over the city walls in Berlin, and fliers strategically placed in cafes, offering an open invitation to join the "Online Demonstration" against Lufthansa, Germany's largest airline. The organisers pledged that "Lufthansa Goes Offline - 20/6/01 - 10am German time".

And sure enough, that day about 10am, Lufthansa reported a "slowing down" of their online booking system, leading to a 10-minute period when the company computer went completely off-line.

DoS attacks are now one of the most popular methods of attacking websites.

Users run a program that makes thousands of requests for a site or services simultaneously, slowing the speed at which the server fetches pages or in some cases crashing the server totally, so that the target site - and others hosted there - cannot be accessed.

In the real world, the concept of creating such a "data storm" is not all that different to what might happen if thousands of passengers stormed a travel office, simultaneously making bookings. The system would become overwhelmed and inevitably falter. "We knew this so-called online demonstration was planned and we took steps to counter it. But because nothing like this has ever happened to us before, there wasn't too much we could do," said Monika Goebel, of Lufthansa Germany's press office.

"They timed the action to occur during our board meeting. We registered an increase in hits and our systems went off-line for 10 minutes. We are reserving our right to take legal action."

But according to Ludger Harnsen, coordinator of the Lufthansa online protest with a non-government organisation, Libertad, there is nothing illegal about such an action. "In Germany, to call up a website and avail of its services is not prohibited. Even if you do so repeatedly and together with others. (There) also exists a basic right to demonstrate in Germany and there is no reason why it should not apply to the virtual public space as well," Harnsen said.

Although Lufthansa refuse to divulge exactly what kind of "steps" they took to counter the online assault, it is believed that the company temporarily barred access to their site to university campus computers across Germany.

"The concept of the online demonstration is something we borrowed from the Zapatistas in Mexico. But for us, this is a test of a new form of protest. It's never been tried before in this country, to our knowledge," Harnsen said.

Increasingly, activists all over the world are turning to the Internet for inspiration. In its many forms, cyber activism has become a standard tactic of modern protest.

"Lufthansa's future financial strategy lies in the expansion of its Internet portal into a giant virtual travel agency," Harnsen noted, "which is supposed to gain 40 per cent of all sales for Lufthansa by 2005. If it is possible, then, to lower its virtual presence or even block it, our message should become clearer to the members of the presiding committee. We will fight them in their own financial arena."

Organisers claim that activists participated in the Lufthansa online demonstration from places as diverse as New York, Argentina, Ireland, Mexico and Australia. Lufthansa has suffered protests in Germany for some years and they went international after recent US newspaper reports on a "deportation business" from which Lufthansa is said to be profiting.

About 40,000 people are deported by Germany every year, 30,000 by plane. Lufthansa came under increasing public pressure over the practice when an Egyptian illegal immigrant, Aamir Ageeb, died on board a Lufthansa aircraft, LH558, on May 28, 1999, as he headed for Cairo escorted by three federal border guards.

But Monica Goebel defended her compan's practices. "We are legally forced by the German Government to move these people out of the country. But we never do it against their will," she said. Goebel also admitted that the continuing protests and media attention have severely damaged the company's public image.

"This has been a devastating time for the image of Lufthansa," she said. "These activists are well organised."

The online protest was timed to coincide with a street protest in Cologne and an attempted storming of the board meeting in Frankfurt.

Ludger Harnsen insists that the online protest organisers were "not hackers". "To push down or permanently damage the Lufthansa server was not our aim. But each log on represents a vote against deportation. I think we will be seeing a many more actions of this nature in the near future," he said.

-- Martin Thompson (, July 03, 2001

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