According to a threat posted on Anonymous information website Anon Relations.net, the loosely banded hacker collective will attempt to disrupt the State of the Union address Tuesday by preventing it from being broadcast online.
Should the group succeed, "that would be some real 'V for Vendetta' stuff," Mark Rasch, former head of the Justice Department's Computer Crime Unit, told NBC News. Referring to the graphic novel and movie from which Anonymous derives much of its imagery (the Guy Fawkes mask, for instance), Rasch added that the threat is "something worth taking seriously."
The AnonRelations.net post cites a litany of offenses as motive for the threatened attack, from "tyrannical" legislation to the treatment of Internet heroes like Aaron Swartz and Bradley Manning. It goes on to state that hackers will "form a virtual blockade between Capitol Hill and the Internet," although onlookers may be skeptical of the group's ability to do this. A recent campaign against Israel during the Gaza conflict did not manage to take down any primary government sites, though several sub-sites and state-related companies were defaced or brought down.
Regardless, Whitehouse.gov administrators will surely want to be on the watch.
When it comes to methods of attack, "there are a couple things they could do," explained Rasch, who is now head of of privacy at security firm CSC. "Hack the stream and inject a new stream, or do a denial-of-service attack, or a redirect." A denial-of-service attack seems most up the group's alley, since it can leverage large numbers of otherwise unsophisticated hackers to overload the White House's servers.
But redirecting visitors to an Anonymous-made page, or even replacing the SOTU stream its own, would be the most desirable. Such an attack requires a high level of teamwork and sophistication, although Rasch noted that coordination and group action are the hallmarks of the hacker group's work.
President Obama's fifth State of the Union address will be broadcast live on TV and the web starting at 9PM ET, barring any hacker interference. There are a number of ways to keep up, from streams to broadcast to NBC News's own liveblog — take your pick from our roundup here.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.