On Wednesday, shortly after Egyptians regained Internet access, the global hacker network known as "Anonymous" took down Egyptian government websites in a show of solidarity with anti-government protesters. The group--which launched cyber attacks against companies that cut ties with WikiLeaks in December and shut down the websites of the Tunisian government and stock exchange during that country's uprising--claimed responsibility for disabling the sites for Egypt's Ministry of Information and President Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party in a series of tweets:

Internet in #Egypt is up. Why isn't Mubarak's site? Because we do not forgive, We do not forget. Egyptians, Hang in there, we are with you.less than a minute ago via web


http://www.moiegypt.gov.eg/ is down. http://www.ndp.org.eg/ is down. Mr. Mubarak, when will you follow? #Jan25 #OpEgypt #Anonymousless than a minute ago via web


Anonymous reportedly used a program called Low Orbit Ion Cannon to overwhelm the government sites with fake traffic--the same strategy they employed in defending WikiLeaks. As of this writing, the Ministry of Information's website appears to have been restored.

But stepping back a minute, do people believe these kinds of virtual interventions are making a difference in the Arab world? Are the hackers advancing the cause of freedom or engaging in empty feats of engineering?

  • 'We Want Freedom', explains Anonymous member Gregg Housh, as quoted by The New York Times: "We're sick of oppressive governments encroaching on people."
  • This Is Hacking as Humanitarianism, argues Motherboard's Joshua Kopstein. He notes that when Egyptians lost access to the web, hackers designed a "mesh network" that enables communication in the event of an Internet blackout by transforming laptops into Internet routers. He concludes that "when communication is as essential as food, water and electricity, hackers and engineers become the new relief workers of [the] 21st Century, poised to combat information-based tragedies the world over."
  • Yemen's Next, But Will Anyone Notice? asks Gawker's Adrian Chen. Anonymous is now targeting Yemen's government websites as part of today's protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, he says, but will the attacks have any effect?

Yemenis probably will not notice Operation Yemen, given that only about five percent of them have access to the Internet. But that's not stopping Anonymous from getting in on what could be the Middle East's next popular uprising. The group tried to flood Egyptian schools with faxes of Wikileaks cables after Mubarak's regime cut Internet access there; maybe they can send hundreds of carrier pigeons to drop the cables into Yemen? Everyone knows Wikileaks automatically causes revolutions in repressive Arab regimes.

  • Cyber Attacks Are Largely Meaningless, asserts Joe Coscarelli at The Village Voice:

Could President Obama function without his official website? Without a doubt--and this in a country where more than 75 percent of people are internet users. So in the case of the Middle East, the hacking is little more than a symbolic showing of faraway solidarity. Moreover, considering how few of the actual protesters will ever know of the action, it's likely just a power play for respect from fellow distant spectators to admire. But that doesn't mean their reach isn't impressive. Just think of it as one more headache for any struggling regime.