As I write this, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are closing in on your position. Maybe you are already behind bars, imprisoned for crimes against Yahoo. They say you had something to do with the rash of attacks that crippled some of the most powerful commercial sites on the Net this month. They overheard you bragging about your exploits in an online chatroom: “U just pin em so hard they can’t even redirect,” you wrote, calling yourself “mafiaboy.” They’re still not sure who you are exactly, but they have a few hunches: You are based in my hometown (Toronto), you are 15 years old and you have a preoccupation with Satanism.
Nice cover. I know better, of course. Like so many who have secretly cheered your exploits (if indeed they are your exploits), I can see through the nihilistic pranksterism to another kind of Mafiaboy. My mythic Mafiaboy isn’t a vandal but an anticorporate freedom fighter for the e-commerce age.
But I’m afraid not everyone sees the precision with which you aim your electronic salvos, Mafiaboy. According to Steve Bellovin, an AT&T security guy, “sometimes kids walk down the street snapping car antennas and tires, and sometimes they take out Yahoo and CNN.” Yeah, right. And sometimes cream pies are thrown at Joe Blow, and sometimes they hit Bill Gates, Milton Friedman and the CEO of Monsanto. Sometimes bricks fly nowhere in particular, and sometimes they sail through the plate glass windows of Seattle’s Niketown and Starbucks during WTO meetings.
They dare to call your methods artless, Mafiaboy. Kevin Mitnick, the infamous hacker just released from four years in federal prison, says you are a “vandal,” not a true hacker. And Newsweek says your feats “required the skill of a spitballer.” At the risk of sounding like a “hacktivism” groupie, let me just say that some of us were able to decipher your encrypted cri de coeur. We understand that your art is of a more conceptual sort. The hacks harnessed hundreds of outside computers to send millions of messages to specific targets. In an instant, sites like Amazon and Yahoo were flooded with exactly what they all so desperately want: traffic. “Yes, I heard you!” and “I’m here!” the wave of messages screamed. What poetry! What simple elegance! Unlike the philistines at AT&T, I am familiar with the art of jujitsu. I know that, thanks to the web’s recent billion-dollar orgy of advertising, we can’t watch television, open a magazine, turn on the radio, surf the web or walk down the street without hearing precisely the same message from the dot-coms. “I’m here!” they wail, attempting, with existential angst, to make their artificially inflated brand names into something tangible.