Trolling and Psychological Attacks

I talk a lot about defense, here’s some other perspectives on it… those of target and attacker in a psychological warfare campaign against someone who has little or no knowledge of defensive security.

A columnist became the target of insane harassment on the Internet for no apparent reason. The attacks did terrible things to the man’s psyche. Eventually, a technically adept friend stepped in to help. Staying within the law, they traced some of the attacks to a 17 year old Irish boy, the son of one of the columnists’ friends.

Confronted, the kid broke down and cried that he didn’t know why he’d done it, it was like playing a game.

Something worth thinking about. I suspect most people went through the “anything you can get a computer to do is a game!” stage of their lives, certainly I did. (Somehow it never even occurred to me to use computers for torture-at-a-distance like it did for this kid.)

Also note the article doesn’t address the possibility the kid had help in executing the attacks.

“my email address was flooded with foulmouthed and disgusting comments and images. Images of corpses and concentration camps and dismembered bodies.[…]

We got to the point of not accepting new [Twitter] followers at all and then one day my wife received a torrent of abuse via DM and on the timeline that was so vile she’s never been on Twitter since – which is a real shame as she has so much to share and is far more interesting than I am.[…]

I received a parcel at my home address. Nothing unusual there – I get lots of post. I ripped it open and there was a Tupperware lunchbox inside full of ashes. There was a note included, saying, “Say hello to your relatives from Auschwitz”. I was physically sick.[…]

In July I was approached by a friend who’s basically an IT genius, and he offered some help. He said that he could trace the hackers and trolls for me using perfectly legal technology, which would lead to their IP addresses. I said yes. Then I baited them – I was deliberately more provocative toward them than ever I’d been before.[…]

It transpired that the abuse had emanated from three separate IP addresses in different corners of Ireland. Two of them were public wifi locations but the third … The third location was the interesting one.

The third location was a friend’s house.

The Troll was his son. His 17-year-old son.[…]

I showed them pictures of ashes and dead flowers.

I pointed out that one of the messages my wife received wishing me dead had arrived when I actually was gravely ill.

I told them of how I’d become so paranoid that I genuinely didn’t know who to trust anymore.

I told them of nights when I’d walked the rooms, jumping at shadows and crying over the sleeping forms of my family for fear that they would suffer because of me.

Then it happened …

The Troll burst into tears. His dad gently restraining him from leaving the table.

I put my hand on his shoulder and asked him: “Why?”

The Troll sat there for a moment and said “I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m sorry. It was like a game thing.”

A game thing.

So, that’s what it was …

The Troll’s mother said: “If you want to call the garda we’ll support you in that. I’m ashamed of him.””


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