Respectful Insolence

How to destroy Wikipedia?

While trolling the deepest, darkest, most vile racist parts of the Internet, as I am wont to do looking around for new Holocaust denial idiocy to take down, I came across something unexpected, so unexpected that it made me curious. Basically, Bill White, Commander of the American National Socialist Workers’ Party, apparently annoyed that he can’t edit Wikipedia pages to conform to his racist views, proposed a strategy for “destroying” Wikipedia. Apparently, according to white racists, Wikipedia is full of “Jewish bias,” whatever that means.

I’m sure there must be Wikipedians out there. (Heck, I’ve thought of starting to help out editing Wikipedia pages on cancer and alternative medicine myself, although I admit that, in the case of alternative medicine, keeping the neutral voice might be difficult; I can do it, though.) Is there anything to this idea? Could it work? My tendency was to think that it probably wouldn’t work and that White probably isn’t the first one to have thought of this.

It just goes to show, though, that there are cranks, even dangerous cranks, always out there trying to undermine Wikipedia, which is just one reason that I’ve always cast a very skeptical eye at Wikipedia articles involving anything but the most straighforward, uncontroversial information.

Comments

  1. #1 Cain
    May 14, 2007

    Any chance of excerpting part of this strategy? You know, so I don’t have to go to a white power hate site from my work computer?

  2. #2 S. Rivlin
    May 14, 2007

    Interestingly, the only commentor on Bill White’s blog is no other than Oscar Yeager. This pair is like “Swastica” and “Heil.”

  3. #3 Patrick
    May 14, 2007

    I second Cain’s request to excerpt part of the plan…

    And you should edit articles if you have time, expert editors are always appreciated.

  4. #4 Joe
    May 14, 2007

    I discourage anyone editing AltMed on the Wiki. Those articles are jealously defended by quacks, and your time can be wasted by immediate reversions; till they lock you out. Even if they accept your work, it can evaporate in a wholesale revision at any time.

    Several years ago, the article on “naturopathy” opened with the statement “Naturopaths are medical doctors.” This is wrong, and not even controversial to NDs who think they are better than MDs. So, I changed it to “Naturopaths are not medical doctors.” For some reason, the first statement was acceptably “neutral;” but mine was not; I was deemed a troll. Months later, the offending, opening sentence was gone. It was a waste of time for whomever wrote it, and for me to try to correct it.

    I have found, however, that leading references to quack literature are easy to find in Wiki. For example, the “innate” (chiropractic’s “life force”) is an embarrassment to most chiros, and it is difficult to find info on it; but I got what I needed from the Wiki.

  5. #5 Mike Saelim
    May 14, 2007

    Here is the excerpt of the plan:

    Write an executable working with a laptop that has broadband or another wireless service that runs off the cell phone network.

    Any given location on the cell phone network appears to have about 64,000 IPs associated with it, assigned at random to the device. It takes Wikipedia about 8 minutes to ban a particular vandal, so figure they can ban seven and a half vandals per hour. Moving as little as twenty miles can completely change the set of IPs available, so multiple users in disparate locations or one mobile user can essentially keep this up forever. I believe that’s 355 days worth of vandalism for every 400 square miles of territory in the United States’ 3.5 million sq miles, or 8750 years worth of vandalism in the US alone per wireless provider. I don’t know how many providers there are, but just one is plenty.

    Write a dialer that interfaces with the broadband service. I am not as familiar with cell phones and other wireless devices, but I’m sure there is some way to have those devices’ operating systems’ switch IPs. Set it up so it dials in, loads Wikipedia, starts indexing links from a page, opens them, then vandalizes the original page, and repeates for each open page. Essentially, build a vandalism spider, a la the kind used to hack, say, the major forum software packages.

    When the spider detacts it is loading a blocked Wikipedia page, have it disconnect the dialer, then redial. It will be assigned a new IP, and it can start its crawling vandalism again.

    Most Wikipedia pages are small and load quickly so I don’t see why a properly equipped machine couldn’t vandalize all 1.7 million Wikipedia articles in a relatively short period of time, and do so repeatedly at a rate that the human users Wikipedia relies on to correct vandalism couldn’t respond in time to find all the histories needed to revert the pages and ban the user. Given that one would only lose a few seconds reconnecting to the wireless network and getting a new IP, Wikipedia could be taken down forever.

    I agree with Orac in that I don’t think it would work. Even if it did, and White actually figured out how to implement it (which would require someone of much larger brainpower and sensibility) and took the trouble to do so, the Wikipedia community would adapt either in its technology or its standards.

  6. #6 Joe
    May 14, 2007

    When I wrote

    “Several years ago, the article on “naturopathy” opened with the statement “Naturopaths are medical doctors.” This is wrong, and not even controversial to NDs who think they are better than MDs.”

    I meant the fact the statement was wrong was not controversial.

  7. #7 Mike Saelim
    May 14, 2007

    Whoops! That verrrry last paragraph is written by me and caused by the absence of a forward slash. I don’t see White and Orac agreeing on very much. :)

  8. #8 Beren
    May 14, 2007

    The gist is: vandalize pages with an automated program from a mobile account, so your IP can be frequently changed, and so you’re pulling from a mostly-public pool of addresses. The author said that he tried it out manually, and it took them about eight minutes to block him each time, so he figures he’s got eight minutes per IP address for his mass vandalization campaign.

    It sounds like something similar to a DDOS attack. I expect that even if they have no plan for this, as soon as the sysadmins there figured out what was going on they’d just block the entire blocks of mobile IPs and restore from a backup to undo the damage. It doesn’t seem like that big a deal, but it’s worth sending them an e-mail for a quick heads up.

  9. #9 Commissar Dragunov
    May 14, 2007

    I am fairly active in Wikipedia – well, in the Bulgarian version – so when I saw this title in the RSS feed, all kinds of alarm bells went off in my head. :)

    One of the modes of article protection in Wikipedia is the so-called “semi-protection”, which allows only registered users to edit an article. I guess it can be applied project-wide in case of emergency, so in the moment some of the admins realizes what is going on, he/she will use it or lock the database entirely.

    Even now Wikipedia has visual confirmation system as a protection against spam-bots (you can try adding an external link to an article as an anonymous user and see what happens). If problems like this ‘battle plan’ become widespread, only a minor modification of the software is required to demand visual confirmation on each anonymous edit.

    If something of the above is illucid or gramatically incorrect, mind that English is not my native language. :)

  10. #10 Kristjan Wager
    May 14, 2007

    There are quite a few articles that have been pretty much taken over by the quacks (just look at any article related to autism), but the strategy described there won’t work, since articles that are under heavy attack from vandalism will be locked for editing, or will be locked for anonymous editing.

  11. #11 Blake Stacey
    May 14, 2007

    Well, they could just shut down anonymous editing across the entire site. People have been proposing that for years: require everyone to register for a user account before making any edits. If anyone actually tried this kind of stunt, that might push the community over the edge.

    Also, various Wikipedians have already written anti-spam reversion bots which detect and reverse common types of vandalism. Seems like anything a bot could do, a bot could stop.

  12. #12 pough
    May 14, 2007

    I signed up for Wikipedia. I removed the word “POOP” from the middle of the write-up on Clash of the Titans. I’m helpful!

  13. #13 Narc
    May 14, 2007

    I think a better place to bring this up would be at the Wikipedia Village Pump (technical).

  14. #14 Joshua
    May 14, 2007

    Wikipedia responds by locking out anonymous edits. (Either temporarily or permanently.) *yawn*

  15. #15 kamimushinronsha
    May 14, 2007

    Is there anything to this idea? Could it work? My tendency was to think that it probably wouldn’t work and that White probably isn’t the first one to have thought of this.

    Maybe. But there is no way White would ever pull it off, he needs a lot of people and some decent computer skills. Neither of which he has, plus he obviously does not know how big the internet is.

    It takes Wikipedia about 8 minutes to ban a particular vandal, so figure they can ban seven and a half vandals per hour.

    7.5 * 24 = 180 IP’s a day
    180 * 365 = 65700
    65700 * (100000 people, yeah right) = 6,570,000,000
    Number of IP Adresses = (4,294,967,296 * (2^32))

    So with that may people and a year of constant driving, he could disable less than 1% of the ip address used. Then nobody would ever be able to edit Wikipeida from their cellphone again. Muhahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha…..IDIOT!

  16. #16 Patrick
    May 14, 2007

    Wouldn’t work. Wikipedia would adapt. Something like that could be the straw that breaks the camels back on anonymous editing.

    Also, wikipedia doesn’t just rely on human users to police and revert vandalism, there are many user created bots that watch the change logs and revert vandalism.

  17. #17 Blake Stacey
    May 14, 2007

    Aha. The Wikipedes are already aware. One editor writes,

    His evil plan will not work. [W]e have previously blocked anon edits from wireless hotspots, it’s no big deal.

    Durova’s essay “The dark side” referenced in the aforelinked discussion is pretty funny and worth reading.

  18. #18 trrll
    May 14, 2007

    What this demonstrates is just how threatening a broad, widely-known information source like Wikipedia, with all its flaws, is to purveyors of lies.

  19. #19 Blake Stacey
    May 14, 2007

    And hey, why doesn’t Bill White just edit Conservapaedia?

  20. #20 kevin
    May 14, 2007

    His idea is basically “I can be obnoxious so quick that Wikipedia’s brain will explode”. Obviously wikipedia can adapt to such stupid, simple automated strategy. The hard attacks involve humans doing clever, unique, individual defacement.

    And his math is badly wrong. There are not an infinite supply of “slash 16″ addresses (blocks of ~ 64,000 IPs). There are only 2^32 addresses in all, and a whole lot are used up with things like the military, big old companies, etc.

    -Kevin

  21. #21 Justin Moretti
    May 14, 2007

    Basically my entire take on wikipedia is: Where is Hari Seldon’s “Encyclopaedia Foundation” when you need it?

    Isn’t it nice to know how scary some people find humble little Wikipedia? Go, Wiki!

  22. #22 BiLLy BloggZ
    May 14, 2007

    Orac
    Lending your skills to Citizendium [ http://en.citizendium.org ] might be a more productive use of your time. Although it doesn’t get the sort of traffic Wikipedia gets, at least you wont be obstructed by dozens of quacks.

  23. #23 Coin
    May 14, 2007

    Several people have already given good examples of why this idea is dumb. I would like to offer another. It is illegal. As several people have noted, this surely does qualify as a DDOS, and would be illegal under probably several the laws on the books which cover DOS attacks and computer crime. The penalties for these laws are quite serious and can include jail time. And not only is this attack as described illegal, it is likely to be easily traceable. The mobile phone networks surely do not like DDOSes any more than wikipedia does, and the mobile IP networks are not as far as I’m aware particularly designed for privacy.

    I don’t know if Wikipedia would actually bother to press charges on this, especially considering the fact that their existing countermeasures might stop the “attack” before anybody even noticed it. But if Wikipedia were interested in doing so, whoever performed the attack would it seems to me very probably go to jail. And then Bill White would go to jail, under conspiracy or hate crime laws or whatever it is you’ve violated when you publicly plan and then explicitly direct someone to perform an illegal and destructive act and they do it.

  24. #24 ChrisTheRed
    May 14, 2007

    Why is it the quacks, hatemongers, and uber-trolls cannot get away from center-justified, colored text? God, it’s like reading a 2nd-grader’s poem about kittens and flowers.

    Proof, I guess, that you can’t do nothin’ about stupid.

  25. #25 Graculus
    May 14, 2007

    As several people have noted, this surely does qualify as a DDOS,

    It’s not a DDoS. In order to qualify as a DDoS it has to be enough illegitimate traffic to at least annoy a 286 running on dial-up. One access every 8 minutes is the internet equivalent of a pimple on a gnat’s arse. It may be “dedicated”, but it isn’t a “denial of service”, as not one single legitimate access will be affected by it, nor is the purpose of the “attack” to deny legitimate traffic.

  26. #26 Coin
    May 14, 2007

    Graculus: Okay, so then I am probably just horribly confused.

    However my understanding was that the DDOS-like set of attacks covered by law is a bit more loose than a strict definition of “DDOS” would be. In the meanwhile, I would say that the primary intent of the attack is indeed to deny legitimate accesses, since any page on wikipedia hit by the attack would be unaccessible to a normal user until such time as the vandalism is reversed, and the intent (if not the effect, considering how quick wikipedia is at catching and correcting these things) of the effect is to deny usability in this way to the entire site. (Of course, this may be a much more intuitive definition of “denial” than the law would be interested in, and of course the “real” page is still accessible via the History tab to anyone who actually knows how to use wikipedia, so…)

    (Would anyone happen to know exactly what the law is that covers DDOSes? Looking the list of U.S. computer crime laws on…er, wikipedia, I’m not actually even sure which one is used in the case of DDOSes. 18 U.S.C. § 1030 seems relevant, but it only seems to apply if $5000 in damages are accrued, so if that’s the applying law then that condition isn’t met here…)

  27. Even while using Wiki, it’s quality is rather variable. Some of it is excellent, some of it is biased. Articles touching on evolutionary psychology seem biased to me as do many topics around the core figures in it. The one I was drawn to by someone who couldn’t handle the concept of scientism was definitely written for the convience of people who hold that ideology.

    “Wikipedia is full of “Jewish bias,” whatever that means.” Clearly it is that world view shared by Noam Chomsky, Richard Perle, Stephen Gould and Steve Pinker, Arnold Schoenberg and Jack Benny.

    I won’t be fair to fascists, I won’t be nice to Nazis.

  28. And hey, why doesn’t Bill White just edit Conservapaedia?
    Posted by: Blake Stacey | May 14, 2007 05:17 PM

    Maybe his crayons are all broken.

  29. #29 Orac
    May 14, 2007

    And hey, why doesn’t Bill White just edit Conservapaedia?

    How do you know he doesn’t?

  30. How do you know he doesn’t?

    If you want a quick laugh go to Conservapaeda and look at the “Algebra” post. Or “Gravity”. At least when I wrote a piece about them about six weeks ago. Maybe they’ve filled out the “stubs” a bit since then.

  31. #31 Zhasper
    May 15, 2007

    I was listening to a podcast on the weekend where Jimmy Wales was giving a presentation about wikipedia. He referenced a group of anti-semites/holocaust-deniers (he specifically mentioned that they complained that Wikipedia had a Jewish bias) that had published a plan to destroy wikipedia. I’m assuming this is the same group, but I may be wrong….

    Jimmy said that the wikipedia team were initially a bit worried about what might happen. However, so far they’ve seen about 18 people they believe to be from that group making malicious edits, and all were banned fairly quickly.

    He also explicitly talked about the quality and reliability of articles on wikipedia: some of them are quality, some aren’t, but you should never, ever take wikipedia as your only reference. At best, it can fill in some general background, but if you want detailed knowledge on a topic, you’re going to have to look elsewhere.

  32. #32 James
    May 15, 2007

    I suspect there is another reason why a neo-Nazi would hate Wikipedia,a nd why he thinks his idea would destroy it. Nazism is a form of fascism after all, and one of fascism’s primary ideas is that unified, centrally-directed action is inherently superior to a bunch of people doing whatever they want. That was why Hitler thought he could destroy the “decadent” West in WWII. (Note I am not suggesting that fascism is unique in believing this, its common to many ideologies).

    It should therefore come as no surprise that a neo-nazi would believe that a decentralised operation like Wikipedia was both contemptible and easily destroyed. What he will discover is that attempting to detroy a decentralised entity with a frontal assault is like trying to nail fog to a wall.

  33. #33 Geral
    May 15, 2007

    ‘Wikipedia is full of “Jewish bias,”

    See, the funny thing about it is facts have a bias. For one, it tells you if your ideas are right or wrong. When they don’t agree, change the facts. Facts have a liberal bias, true story.

  34. #34 Graculus
    May 15, 2007

    my understanding was that the DDOS-like set of attacks covered by law is a bit more loose than a strict definition of “DDOS” would be.

    Dammit, I’m a geek, not a doct… erm …. lawyer.

    *My* understanding is that it is a technical term not subject to definition by lawyer, the law doesn’t mention DoS by name and the legalese is vague enough to cover several contingencies (which is a good thing). Anyway, it looks like non-commercial/non-governmental sites are pretty much not covered by US law. Sucks to be you ;-)

    In the meanwhile, I would say that the primary intent of the attack is indeed to deny legitimate accesses, since any page on wikipedia hit by the attack would be unaccessible to a normal user until such time as the vandalism is reversed

    Again, it’s a technical term. “Service” refers to the technical ability to access the site (think “service” in terms of “ISP”… the technical ability to get online). It’s not “denying access” because the *page* is still accessible to normal users. Quality of *content* is not relevant. (Millions of MySpace users sigh with relief)

    Bad analogy warning: Even if all you recieve is spam, your email service is still accessible. If someone blocks access to your front door, they may be guilty of something, but one thing they aren’t guilty of is breaking and entering.

    On another technical note, unless this pimple on the buttocks of the universe has friends (unlikely), it wouldn’t be a DDoS, it would be a DoS. The first “D” stands for “distributed”.

  35. #35 Max Sang
    May 15, 2007

    Please, please, please mark that link as NSFW! You’ll be getting people fired, directing them to hate sites. I sometimes read from work and I unthinkingly clicked on it, getting a ‘site blocked as inappropriate’ message from our proxy. I bet I’m not the only nervous reader out there at the moment.

  36. #36 Nomen Nescio
    May 15, 2007

    excerpt from the cunning plan that cannot fail:

    It takes Wikipedia about 8 minutes to ban a particular vandal, so figure they can ban seven and a half vandals per hour.

    but that doesn’t follow; the nazi is confusing latency with bandwidth. plus he’s so concerned with (erroneously) trying to calculate his target’s capabilities that he’s forgetting to make a realistic assessment of his own, and of the risks his most illegal plan would run. people get arrested for stealing wireless bandwidth fairly regularly these days.

    really, things like this makes me think the Blues Brothers painted american nazis in too positive a light…

  37. #37 Jim Lane
    May 15, 2007

    The posting of this information on Wikipedia has prompted Jimmy Wales himself to respond, with a reference to the Wikimedia Foundation’s tech employee. Wales wrote: “The great thing about modern racists is that they are total frickin’ morons. So, you know, whatever. Brion Vibber versus 100,000 Nazis? I know who my money is on. :)”

    As to the alternative medicine and other such articles on Wikipedia, there are definitely some persistent quacks, but there are also many editors who devote time to keeping the articles encyclopedic. For example, the article on Homeopathy says, in its second sentence, that homeopathy is “widely discredited in scientific circles”. On the other hand, I just took a quick skim through the Naturopathy article, which I don’t think I’ve ever looked at before, and I agree that it’s in terrible shape. The lesson, though, is that Wikipedia needs more pro-science editors. We can’t abandon this hugely popular site to the quacks.

  38. #38 Blake Stacey
    May 15, 2007

    The Conservapaedia Commandments actually say,

    The operation of unauthorized wiki-bots is prohibited.

    In addition,

    Vandalism is punishable up to 10 years in jail per 18 USC § 1030. The IP addresses of vandals will be reported to authorities. That includes your employer and your local prosecutor.

    I guess White is just lucky his views don’t count as “vandalism” over there!

    For reference, here is Title 18, section 1030.

  39. #39 Steevl
    May 15, 2007

    Wikipedia moderators can and do block shared IPs and whole ranges of IPs if they’re getting a lot of hassle. I’ve been unable to edit before because someone using the same ISP had been vandalising.

  40. #40 Barry
    May 15, 2007

    I had thought that the plan was to do just that – have Wikipedia shut down lots of blocks of IP’s due to vandalism.

  41. #41 llewelly
    May 15, 2007

    I second Max Sang. Overthrow88 is NFSW, and you should mark it as such as a courtesy to your readers.

  42. #42 James
    May 16, 2007

    Give we’re talking about the blog of a neo-nazi I would have thought that went without saying.

  43. #43 lurker
    May 17, 2007

    the nazi is confusing latency with bandwidth
    I definately agree with this statement. After the average 8 minutes have passed, an admin notices the vandalism and rolls back all edits from that IP as a single action, at which point the program disconnects and starts it all over again. This would be no more powerful than doing it by hand, really.

    (A probably unneeded suggestion): the MO of the program itself could easily be blocked: If a single anon user makes more than X edits in Y seconds, they can be assumed to be a vandal-bot and massively rolled back/held for verification, and the IP (temp?) banned. It does seem fairly safe to assume that no legitimate user would write up ten edits and then hit the “submit” button on all of them simultaneously, doesn’t it?

    On another technical note, unless this pimple on the buttocks of the universe has friends (unlikely), it wouldn’t be a DDoS, it would be a DoS. The first “D” stands for “distributed”.
    Actually, the pimple’s plan involved distributing the program to thousands of people in differing geographical locations. Whether or not he commands such a legion of tools is irrelevant, his plan as stated would be quite “distributed.” How far do you have to distribute it to qualify as “technically” DDoS? 2 bots? 200?

  44. #44 Sunshine
    July 13, 2007

    Be oh-so-careful when taking advice from Wikipedia administrator Durova (author of the article “The Dark Side”). She likes to write long preachy essays about the dangers of Wikipedia, while tripping up users who don’t know the rules. She’s pretty well known for making up false information to discredit people on any small whim.

    Please don’t disclose that you have a any page on wikipedia in which you have any vested interest (business or otherwise) to her, or any other Wikipedia administrator. But most certainly her. She’s not stable.

    Durova runs around to any article about Wikipedia touting herself as an authority. She’s a showoff without substance. Does she work for wikipedia? No. She offers herself as a paragon of advice, but ask her for the same advice on Wikipedia, and she’ll kick you in the face. Avoid her like the plague.

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