Cyber-attacks on Lacus Curtius

I learn from the New at LacusCurtius & Livius blog that there have been another round of attacks on the Lacus Curtius site, hosted at the University of Chicago.

For those who do not know it — and why on earth do you NOT know it? — it is the personal site of Bill Thayer, which contains a very great quantity of classical texts in the original and in translation, plus secondary material from encyclopedias, backed with notes of great learning by Bill himself, and diaries of his own journeys in Tuscany and Umbria.  It is, in short, one of the great treasures of the classical internet, and not nearly mentioned enough on this site or others.  The University of Chicago is to be commended to making it possible for this site to be there.

Bill writes:

Lacus has been down since about 2130 GMT. James [the sysadmin] tells me that the problems are getting worse and worse, constant attack from spoofed servers, usually traceable to China, but also to Russia and Brazil. We try to ban wide chunks of the world from getting to us, allowing access only to the civilized world, but decreasing success.

That also means you can’t reach me by e-mail, except those of you who have my GMail address. The immediate problem should be fixed tomorrow by around 1400 GMT; but it’s only a matter of time before we’ll have to shut down; with any luck, move to a server with more robust security measures.

I’m tired of terrorists, cyber and otherwise, whether Arabs or Chinese or whatever. Malevolent fools, who can’t produce anything, but can spoil things for the rest of us, like small puking children.

I have split the last paragraph so that I can comment on the last bit.  I entirely share his sentiments.  For no-one could possibly have a rational reason to attack so innocuous and so charming a site as Lacus Curtius, and it is hard to believe any civilised person would do so.  If they did, the laws of our land would deal with them.

I remember days when anonymity was merely an incidental effect of using charming “handles” chosen for amusement.  Too often, these days, anonymity is deliberate and intentional, and practised for the same reason that criminals prefer to be anonymous.

Too many people online are criminals, in truth.  They are criminals in every sense other than the technicality that a law prohibits it.  Some of them, indeed, have no compunction about illegality either. 

The key element in a criminal is that he is someone who will do without hesitation whatever he thinks he can get away with.  The criminal acts without the slightest regard for whether someone else is injured thereby.  That is what makes a criminal, from the smallest vandal to the greatest banking fraudster in the world.  And they are on the increase in the world today.

I have myself been the victim of such people, determined to “get their way”, and indifferent to right and wrong.  Indeed I have been forced to give up editing Wikipedia because of several months of harassment by a pair of youths acting in just such a manner.  I believe those attacking me to be Pakistanis, looking at some of the articles they edited.  Their conduct was of precisely this kind.  Rules were there to be gamed, not followed. 

But if so, we have to ask why Wikipedia is open to editing by the scum of the earth?  Why do people like ourselves have to fight to inform, in the face of those interested only in getting  their own way?  It is, in truth, because the borders of the civilised world have been opened too widely, and so people like Bill and I end up acting as border control policemen, but without the resources of the state.

It is an illusion, although a generous one, to suppose that “people are the same everywhere.”  Those who planted bombs on airliners on 9/11 showed this was false.  Many of the inhabitants of many countries are criminals, by the above definition; and if we give them access to our lands, our websites, our social networks, they will not contribute whatever they know.  Instead they will simply use them as opportunities for plunder and savagery.

Let us wish Bill and James well, and hope that they will soon be sorted out.

17 Responses to “Cyber-attacks on Lacus Curtius”


  1. Bill Thayer

    Gosh Roger, you feel more strongly than I do even. But we all have a right to: this isn’t just something that affects one or two websites, or even for that matter just websites. It affects us all. Discussion here last nite as to whether this is new in world history or not: acts of disruption and hatred that seem to be randomly directed. I catch flak for saying that one can see justification for the Sep. 11 attack on the Pentagon — but there is none whatever for the Twin Towers attack.

    For my part, I believe it to be a new thing, possibly caused by the rage of many who realize somewhere inside that we’re all one world, and that power based on dividing us is slowly starting to be — God willing! — a thing of the past, like creeping about on all four sets of knuckles.

    The problem for me becomes how, like a body setting up an immune system, to protect ourselves against lunacy and malevolence (Hitler’s World War II was the first clear case of it by my lights) without making us all slaves of Big Government, whether Washington or Brussels or, God forbid, the UN.

    The little woes of Lacus: a symptom of something much greater, that I don’t see anyone addressing. (Site back up.)

  2. Roger Pearse

    You bet I do. At least you can preserve the integrity of what you spent years making. I invested a couple of years of editing and researching, and in the end did no more than act as research assistant for a couple of scumbags who hijacked my work.

    9/11 wasn’t an act of war. It was a treacherous attack in peacetime on the unsuspecting, carried out by abusing the hospitality of strangers.

    But yes, this is much larger than you or I. And no-one is addressing it. It is, in truth, a question of border control.

  3. Robert Bedrosian

    LacusCurtius is one of the most important Internet sites in my opinion. It is our Library of Alexandria in the air. Perhaps it’s time to consider making CDs of the entire contents and letting people purchase them.

    I’m very worried about the possibility of all that treasure being lost.

  4. Roger Pearse

    That’s a very good idea. I do it, heaven knows, using Paypal, and it brings in a small but steady amount of money.

    I hope the site is archived at archive.org, but I don’t know.

  5. Bill Thayer

    Wow, thank you Robert also! —

    I’m 61 and don’t expect to live forever; no mechanism in place to maintain the site. I would suggest that the site be passed on to someone who might continue to build on it, with possibly a “frozen” version for its own historical record, since in essence like the rest of us in the Internet age, I too as part of the Noosphere am becoming history.

    Not quite right yet, though.

  6. Bill Thayer

    A sort of measured backtrack on my part: we’re not absolutely sure this particular outage is due to a cyberattack — very difficult to trace exactly what happens each time, and with my “knowledge” of computer networks I’m hardly the one to do it — but our logs give plenty, plenty of evidence that we’ve been under cyberattack (mostly from China, as I said) for several years. So my initial comment is true in its essence for sure; and my guess is that very likely so are the particulars as well, after all.

  7. Roger Pearse

    If you’re only 61, then speculation is clearly premature. You’ll be uploading for another thirty years, I daresay.

    The cyber-attacks are a problem which our masters are steadfastly ducking. I wonder if we will live to rue the refusal of the US to nuke China while it could?

  8. Robert Bedrosian

    I’m 61 also and have some of the same concerns about losing my material. Bill, one thing you might consider doing, if you do not want to go the CD route. Make free downloadable .zip versions of the texts and translations available from your site. I do that for my stuff and according to my counter programs, more than 50,000 downloads have been made in the past two years. That way, when our sites do vanish, the work doesn’t disappear too. Please reflect on this. Your work is too precious to lose.

  9. Paul Mac

    It is not just ‘site attacks’ that are the domain of the ‘anonymous sociopath/criminal’. My interests in classics mean I follow many sites such as Lacus Curtius ( thanks for all the research assistance, Bill ! ) and participate on a number of Ancient Forums. On one in particular I found myself constantly attacked both on the site and on that member’s anonymous blog. He even went to the extent of ‘stealing’ my online I.D. and setting up a phony blog site in that name, as well as attributing ‘phony’ posts, all libellous, on his own anonymous blogspot, to my online I.D.

    Minor stuff you might think, but it is still an abuse of ‘on-line freedom’, and a criminal act, and I wonder how much of this sort of thing also goes on?

    Paul Mac

  10. Roger Pearse

    It doesn’t seem like “minor stuff” to me. The intention of those actions is to inflict pain on another human being and potentially to involve you with the police. It hardly matters what the “reason” might be — who but a villain would do such a thing, whatever the provocation?

    I’ve certainly been libelled by some of the people who attacked me. But of course they remain anonymous, and it is questionable who to sue. And anyway, who can afford libel actions? Nor is it accidental that the culprits choose to remain anonymous.

    This kind of conduct will, I think, bring an end to online anonymity. The “friendly” kind of anonymity, where people call themselves “Gandalf” or the like, seems to be vanishing — may already have vanished. The sole purpose of online anonymity these days is not to connect what is said online to a person. Sometimes that is understandable. A man with a family to support may want to take part in some religious or political forum, without losing some desperately needed job because of an employer’s nosiness. But increasingly it is not so innocent.

    My guess is that online anonymity will vanish within the next few years, and that governments will insist on internet users being “registered”. The pretext will be because of the abuse of anonymity for criminal purposes. And, I fear, the huge consequent loss of freedom involved will be accepted, because everyone is tired of the criminals. I really do not see how the current situation can continue.

    Which ancient fora do you find useful?

  11. Paul Mac

    It is not just ‘site attacks’ that are the domain of the ‘anonymous sociopath/criminal’. My interests in classics mean I follow many sites such as Lacus Curtius ( thanks for all the research assistance, Bill ! ) and participate on a number of Ancient Forums. On one popular one in particular I found myself constantly attacked both on the site and on that member’s anonymous blog. ( that he uses to denigrate other fellow authors, especially competitirs with ‘bad’ reviews).
    He even went to the extent of ‘stealing’ my online I.D. and setting up a phony blog site in that name, as well as attributing ‘phony’ posts, all libellous, on his own anonymous blogspot, to my online I.D.

    He also used a ‘sock-puppet’ to re-direct traffic from the popular forum to his anonymous blogsite.

    Minor stuff you might think, but it is still an abuse of ‘on-line freedom’, and a criminal act, and I wonder how much of this sort of thing also goes on? The Raphael Golb affair springs to mind

    Paul Mac

  12. JB Piggin

    Bill: At 61, I think it’s time for you to apply to the Library of Congress to preserve your wonderful site in its archive of born-digital material. A fine use of your taxes. If there is any quibble, I can assure you, dozens of us will write in to support the nomination. The link is here:
    http://www.loc.gov/webarchiving/index.html
    You would qualify for the Single Sites Web Archive section.
    If there is any problem in Washington, the British Library Web Archive in London may agree to take on preservation. You would merely have to persuade them that your site preserves British scholarship (which it does in part). Here is the link:
    http://www.webarchive.org.uk/ukwa/
    Roger: I hope your site is similarly preserved so that an AD 3800 antiquarian will be able to scan it for clues about ancient Essex Nights …
    http://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/?p=5974

  13. Jamie

    As a follower of Lacus Curtius, I was intrigued by the responses triggered by that site going down. Like others I’m scratching my head as to why people do these things? I’m not sure I have any idea why people deface buildings, new and old; either? Regarding the internet and it’s use. I’ve often considered that perhaps people who sell virus protection are happy to see these attacks, because they make money from “protection rackets”. Similarly, we used to be able to take a plane ride without all that scanning hoopla. All that expensive machinery that we had no use for? Hmmmm, now how do we sell the tax-payer on that? “Good people do not need laws telling them what to do and the bad will just find ways around them”. Has never before, been so aptly applied.

  14. blake davis

    I love the lc site and am astounded that anyone would even be interested in doing it harm.there really is no hope for us.

  15. Roger Pearse

    Well … there are lots of people out there who feel envy and resentment and will destroy something merely to prove they can.

  16. Bill Thayer

    Thank you Blake!

    But not to worry about anyone specifically targeting Lacus; as far as we’ve been able to trace them, it’s a (constant, ongoing, by the way) part of global attacks on everybody. It’s just that since Lacus is not run off a huge server with an IT staff, but off a small Macintosh tended part-time by my partner, the logs are accessible to us and we can see what’s going on. Most of the Denial of Service attacks can be traced to the People’s Republic of China, and my guess is that it’s part of their general program of exploits on Western capabilities. Hey, they prolly think I run a nuclear reactor or a power grid.

  17. Roger Pearse

    Interesting, Bill – thank you.