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OpIreland hackers spank gov sites as 'Irish SOPA' nears

Angry hacktivists land on Irish shores

Anonymous took out several key Irish government websites last night and promised more disruption to come in retaliation for new SOPA-like legislation which it claimed would make it easier for copyright-holders to block access to file sharing and other sites in the country.

The hacktivist collective announced OpIreland last night, launching brief but successful DDoS attacks on the website of the Departments of Justice and Finance as well as the Freedom of Information unit and BlueBlindfold.gov.ie, which provides information on human trafficking.

The Reg is still seeking official confirmation from the Irish government on the DDoS attacks, although they were reported on thejournal.ie.

All sites are now back up and running but the hacktivist collective warned of more attacks in the future and at the time of writing is focusing efforts on taking down the website of Sean Sherlock, the junior minister who is shepherding the controversial legislative changes through.

What Anonymous and others are so upset about is a new statutory instrument - a change in Irish law that doesn’t have to be ratified by Parliament - which is set to be pushed through by the end of the month.

They claim its aim is to clarify the law to make it possible for the courts to force ISPs and other third parties to block third-party sites suspected of copyright infringement. As such, it has become known as “Ireland's SOPA”, with over 31,000 already signing up to a petition opposing the legislation.

The clarification was deemed necessary after a previous legal dispute between the entertainment industries and Irish ISP UPC led a High Court judge to rule that there is nothing under current Irish law to force an ISP to block a website suspected of copyright infringement.

The Irish government is set to push through the changes despite a landmark ruling from the European Court of Justice in the SABAM vs Scarlet case which stated that attempts at blocking certain web content are prone to infringe on freedom of expression.

Security consultant and head of Ireland’s Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT) Brian Honan told The Register that the statutory instrument is causing concern in Ireland for three key reasons. “The wording of the proposed amendments has not been made public; what we have found out is very broad and could be abused in future; and finally it’s not being debated and industry has not been consulted at all over this,” he said.

Batten down the hatches, sysadmins

Honan urged sysadmins in the country to carry out an urgent risk profile of their organisation to determine whether it could be a target of OpIreland.

“Ensure your systems are patched and up-to-date and any unnecessary services are turned off,” he advised. “Also make sure your firewalls are up-to-date and configured properly, your IDS is on and configured properly and actively monitor this and other logs for suspicious activity.”

Unsurprisingly, the controversial proposals have also drawn the anger of Irish telecoms industry association, ALTO, which argued that the “rush to shore-up a perceived legislative gap by secondary legislation” is in no party’s best interests and serves “no valid purpose”.

“ALTO further believes that the proposed wording of the draft text leaves little guidance to a court in determining what order might arise out of a successful injunction application,” it said.

Junior minister Sean Sherlock took to the airwaves to allay any fears that the new instrument could impinge on personal freedoms and harm what is a thriving web industry in Ireland.

He argued that the law was only being drafted to clarify a position already held, that copyright-holders should have the right to seek an injunction where there is a breach of their copyright. He was less clear, however, on how this could be achieved while still respecting the European SABAM vs Scarlet judgment.

“We have no intention of blocking sites, we have no intention of introducing legislation which will restrict internet freedoms; this is a liberal democracy,” Sherlock told RTE Radio 1’s Drivetime programme. “All we’re doing is giving a voice to what is a position which we felt was held in Irish law anyway.”

Michele Neylon , managing director of Irish hosting firm Blacknight, hit the nail on the head with his appraisal of the minister’s performance.

“I have very mixed feelings because I think the minister is trying his best to address the concerns that people like ourselves would have, but I also suspect he doesn’t understand the technical implications of what he’s asking,” he said on the same radio programme.

Irish lecturer and solicitor TJ McIntyre has compiled a useful FAQ on Ireland’s SOPA here.

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