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Anti-ISIS Hacktivists Are Attacking the Internet Archive

“They do not come across as the sharpest tacks in the tack-box-factory.”

The Internet Archive, the open-access digital library and home of the Wayback Machine, was hit with a distributed denial-of-service attack on Wednesday. The site was apparently attacked because the it hosts ISIS-related materials. By 3:30 PM PDT, the Internet Archive had been down for about three or four hours.

The Twitter account @AttackNodes appeared to claim credit for the DDoS, tweeting from the #opISIS hashtag. #opISIS is short for Operation ISIS, an online campaign against ISIS that affiliated with the hacktivist group Anonymous. A source familiar with Anonymous operations said that the attack wasn't launched by the main Operation ISIS group (AnonOps) or from its spin-off CtrlSec, but from yet another offshoot that other members of Anonymous have been unable to get in contact with. "They do not come across as the sharpest tacks in the tack-box-factory," said the source.

Because the Internet Archive allows users to upload files, it sometimes ends up hosting ISIS newsletters or other propaganda. Whatever ISIS content the Archive hosts would either be user-submitted or scraped from the web. It's unclear whether there is a specific file or document that motivated the attack. Evan Kohlmann of NBC News noted in 2015 that four copies of a beheading video were hosted on the Internet Archive.

Operation ISIS "fights back" against the terrorist group by identifying ISIS accounts on Twitter and reporting them to Twitter.

Members of Operation ISIS also DDoS websites associated with ISIS. A DDoS or distributed denial-of-service attack, occurs when a server is flooded with access requests from many different IP addresses, thus either disabling the website for everyone or flooding it to the point of not being able to accept new connections. This is often achieved by mobilizing a botnet.

A post on one Anonymous-affiliated site says, "Binary Sec, a known Anonymous affiliated group, has made it their mission to eradicate terrorism from the internet. By applying internet censorship on the terrorists, they are unable to use the internet for inappropriate purposes. Binary Sec uses one of the most famous methods in the world 'DDOS', to take websites offline for several hours, depending upon the amount of DDOS applied."

The Internet Archive, which is a nonprofit headquartered inside of an old church in San Francisco, California, does not run advertisements on its site. Therefore a DDOS is unlikely to have a substantial financial impact—or at least, not in the way that the attack could affect a for-profit enterprise like PayPal. (Theoretically, the Internet Archive is forgoing online donations while the site is down).

Reached by phone, the Internet Archive was unable to give official comment, offering only that "everyone who can tell you what's going on right now is busy working on it."

In 2015, Jill Lepore profiled the Archive's founder in the New Yorker: "[Brewster] Kahle is a digital utopian attempting to stave off a digital dystopia. He views the Web as a giant library, and doesn't think it ought to belong to a corporation, or that anyone should have to go through a portal owned by a corporation in order to read it."

"The Library of Alexandria was open only to the learned," wrote Lepore, "[T]he Internet Archive is open to everyone."

The new Library of Alexandria is apparently open to ISIS as well—and for that, it's now under fire from the internet.