KATHERINE C. COHEN/BOSTON CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL
KATHERINE C. COHEN/BOSTON CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL

When a children’s hospital’s critical infrastructure is fair game for  vigilantes, whether anonymous or Anonymous, the attackers stop being activists and start being criminals.

One of the challenging aspects of reporting on Anonymous operations, as the collection of digital activists’ actions are called, is that it’s difficult by design to find out who is behind them, or even how many people are involved. With just over a thousand views of a recent call to action against Boston Children’s Hospital, this particular operation does not seem to have gained much traction in the wider Anonymous community.

But with the ability to build or rent botnets with minimal digital skills and a lot of free time, anyone, no matter how poorly misguided, can muster what feels like a veritable cyberarmy to whatever cause du jour attracts their fancy.

When that target becomes the critical internal infrastructure of Boston Children’s Hospital, it’s hard to see that as anything but terrorism, defined as “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” Innocent children’s health and safety are put at risk by current attacks:

The extent of the attack on Children’s Hospital is unknown. The hospital website remained up on Thursday but other Web portals that are used by Children’s doctors and patients were offline Thursday morning.

In a memo sent to Children’s employees Monday, chief executive Sandra Fenwick said the hospital had been victim of “multiple attacks, designed to bring the site down by overwhelming its capacity.”

As the Boston Globe reports, not even the family of Justina Pelletier, the young woman at the center of this case, appreciates the “help” the attackers are offering:

Reached by telephone Thursday, Linda Pelletier, Justina’s mother, said she knows nothing about any organization launching cyber attacks on behalf of Justina, and does not condone this behavior.

“I think the whole thing has gotten out of control,” she said. “I don’t know who Anonymous is. I just want my daughter home.”

Glorifying this as a “hacking” attack, when its simply rerouting traffic, gives the perpetrators too much technical credit. Calling them Anonymous or hacktivists gives them too much mystique and too much moral credit; these attackers are just two-bit criminals playing with the lives of innocent children.

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