Norway has emerged as a top target of hackers and social activists known as “hacktivists.” The reason: Norwegian whaling, which now is making a wide range of both public- and private -ector Norwegian websites vulnerable to hacker attacks that already have all but shut them down.
Security experts in Norway aren’t only worried about the threat of governments spying and hacking their way into Norwegian websites. Now it’s become clear that international opposition to Norway’s controversial whaling has spread, from the more traditional vandalism and attacks against whaling boats to the digital arena.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported Friday that several Norwegian institutions have been placed on an attack list by the hacktivist organization known as Anonymous. Banks, seafood producers and retailers, tourism organizations and even a popular Oslo restaurant-food court are among targets appearing on the list. They’re listed in addition to websites for government- and state-controlled institutions for the fisheries directorate, the court system, the tourism agency VisitNorway and the website for the government (Regjeringen) itself. Even Norway’s national railway and train system, NSB, has been targeted.
Several sites have already been attacked. In some cases the websites’ administrators have had to block all traffic from non-Norwegian servers in order to avoid having them shut down because of an onslaught of traffic to the site.
Norway the prime target
The anti-whaling hacktivists have also targeted Japan, Iceland and the Færoe Islands as the three other countries in the world that continue to engage in whaling. Iceland, for example, reportedly has already suffered the “DDoS” (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks that shut down the websites to several Icelandic government ministries.
Norwegian authorities now believe Norway is and will be targeted more often because it has the largest whaling quota by far. Those still engaged in whaling in Norway were allowed to harpoon 999 vågehval (minke whales) this past season, which runs from April through the summer. That compares to Iceland’s hunt that recommends killing up to 224 such whales over the two-year period from 2016 to 2018. Japan’s whaling quota was set at 333.
Even though the quotas often aren’t reached, hacktivists working through an operation dubbed #OpWhales “want to hit Norway,” Lone Charlotte Pettersen, leader of the section for Internet-related investigative support for state police agency Kripos, told Aftenposten. “They can choose random targets. As long as they can do some damage, they’re satisfied.”
Pettersen said the hacktivists also encourage others to buy and use destructive programs against Norwegian targets. “We wish we had better control,” Pettersen admitted. “This is a challenge for Kripos and the police.”
Several Norwegian websites were attacked and taken down in early 2016 and again in May. The director of information technology (IT) at Norway’s fisheries directorate, Bjørn Arvid Sætren, confirmed to Aftenposten that its website was attacked in May. That’s when a virus also was unleashed against 150 countries and a long list of Norwegian companies and insitutions were hit by that as well.
Political question of whether whaling is worth its risks
Norway remains a target, not least after Norway’s government minister in charge of fisheries declared that he wants to double Norway’s whaling quota. A spokesperson for Anonymous told Icelandic magazine The Reykjavik Grapevine last year that the group would not disappear and that any halt of the Icelanic whale hunt would then turn the “spotlight” to Norway and Japan. The hacktivists are especially unhappy about the increase in Norway’s quota.
There’s little open public debate over whaling at present. Norwegian officials and politicians have routinely defended the industry and even tried to suggest that protests against whaling had died down. They’ve been quickly refuted, and opposition has flared over other attempts to preserve whaling.
With demand for whale meat, oil and other products on the decline for years, it remains a question of how long Norwegian politicians are willing to continue Norwegian whaling and whether it’s worth it. It’s largely been maintained as a concession to a small group of whalers in Northern Norway, and because of a desire to preserve what many still consider a part of the Norwegian coastal heritage. Norwegian sealing is on its way out, however. Environmental and animal rights activists, also in Norway, want whaling to follow.