An attorney defending a homeless man alleged to be a member of the activist group “Anonymous” has filed an unusual defense, claiming that even if his client carried out a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on Santa Cruz County computers, it would have simply been initiating a next-generation version of the sit-in protest.
The man, 47-year-old Christopher Doyon, allegedly carried out the cyber-attack under the pseudonym “Commander X,” although his attorney denies Doyon has any connection to that alias. The attack was allegedly carried out in protest of the county’s rules against sleeping outdoors in Santa Cruz, which triggered the arrests of several activists last year.
Whether or not his client is the mysterious “Commander X” is irrelevant, attorney Jason Leiderman told Talking Points Memo. He believes that DDoS is not a crime.
“There’s no such thing as a DDoS ‘attack’,” he reportedly said. “A DDoS is a protest, it’s a digital sit-in. It is no different than physically occupying a space. It’s not a crime, it’s speech.”
Despite the attorney’s suggestion, there is at least one form of DDoS that is unquestionably a crime: those that involve using “botnets” made up of slave computers infected with malware, allowing one person or a group of people to wield enormous bandwidth across sometimes millions of systems, all without their owners’ knowledge.
Another form of DDoS that’s emerged, especially since “Anonymous” began to make its mark on the civil justice movements, is the voluntary DDoS: where thousands of computer users knowingly band together and agree to request pages from a server in unison. If enough users can be amassed, the effect is the same as a botnet DDoS, but the methods are obviously different and, like Doyon’s attorney said, more akin to a sit-in protest.
“Nothing was malicious, there was no malware, no Trojans,” Leiderman added. “This was merely a digital sit in. It is no different from occupying the Woolworth’s lunch counter in the civil rights era.”
Still, it remains to be seen if a jury will buy that argument.