A number of protests have been organized for January 20th, the day President Barack Obama officially passes the torch to President-Elect Donald Trump. While most will take place in public gathering places, at least one will happen on the World Wide Web.
Image: Lee Mathews/Forbes
A Bay-area software engineer put out the call this week to anyone who wants to participate but can’t make it to a march or a sit-in. Those people were urged to point their web browser at Whitehouse.gov and hit the refresh button as often as possible (or automate the process with software if they have the know-how). The goal is to bring down the website with people power rather than resorting to a cybercriminal-style DDoS attack.
In a Youtube video that has since been taken down, the Bay-area software engineer who pitched the idea of the DDoS-like protest said that what he was proposing was not illegal. That may not, however, be completely accurate.
Launching a DDoS attack against Whitehouse.gov? Definitely illegal. Staging a non-registered protest against Whitehouse.gov with the same intended outcome? That could very well be interpreted as illegal, too.
Amichai Shulman, who is CTO of security at Imperva, told a reporter at Dark Reading “if you open a browser and constantly refresh, that’s a legitimate protest by a human being.” Courts may, however, disagree with his assessment.
Since the intent is the same as an actual DDoS attack — denying access to a service by overwhelming that service with traffic — that may be enough for law enforcement agencies to consider an protestors who join in to be violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. That was the fate of a labor union that participated in a coordinated email and phone campaign against Michigan-based Pulte Homes in 2011.
There is an effort under way to have DDoS attacks classified as a legitimate form of protest, but until something has legislated it could be extremely risky to engage even in DDoS-like behavior if there’s a stated goal to impair access to a website like Whitehouse.gov. It also seems unlikely to happen while Trump is in the White House. He’s already taken one anti-protest stance.