Whatever your position on the use of illicit controlled substances, you have to admit that the 1960s spawned an inordinately large number of good one-liners (whatever their source). The one I'm thinking of today is: "What if they held a war, and no one came?"

From which I've come up with a 21st-century Internet corollary: "What if they held a war, or several wars even, and no one knew they were happening?" (Further proving that one-liners from the '60s were better.)

Somewhere between here and Nigeria, somewhere out in the ether, there are not one but several wars raging. You just can't see them. You don't hear about them on TV. Honestly, unless you frequent techie websites like that run by Netcraft -- as I do from time to time, to remind myself that I have no idea how this Internet thing really works -- you'd probably be pretty much clueless to the carnage. Cases in point:

  • The short-lived burst of Internet vigilantism sponsored by Lycos Europe (OTC BB: LYCOF.PK), which is a subsidiary of Terra Networks (NASDAQ:TRRA) and sub-subsidiary of Telefonica SA (NYSE:TEF).

  • The high-tech propaganda skirmish surrounding the Chechen war.

  • And this just in from Netcraft: another flare-up of vigilantism, this time between Nigeria's dread purveyors of the incredibly transparent and just as incredibly (in the sense that I can't believe people actually fall for this) lucrative 419 scam. That being the one where Nigerian Vice President Mobutu Cheeba-Cheeba's long-lost nephew offers to share with you his uncle's stolen oil riches if you'll kindly send him your bank account info.

A group of well-intentioned Internet vigilantes calling itself "Artists Against 419" (AA419) have set up a screensaver that works similarly to the Lycos program mentioned above. Like Lycos' program, AA419's "Mugu Marauder" attacks websites associated with the 419 scam, draining away their bandwidth and ultimately knocking them offline. While this sounds suspiciously like an illegal attack known as "distributed denial of service," like Lycos, AA419 vehemently denies that its program launches a DDOS attack.

Lacking a computer science degree, I'm in no position to quibble on that. But whether it's technically a DDOS attack or not, the effect's the same. It lets good guys like you and me strike back at the bad guys. With the caveat that, like the bad guys, what we're doing is illegal.

Is it satisfying to be able to hit back at criminals who lie, cheat, and steal money from innocents? No doubt. But the more we as individuals indulge our collective id in participating in such attacks, the more likely the Internet will become a technological free-fire zone. Call me a pacifist if you like, but in this Fool's opinion, it might be better to leave this particular fight to Internet security companies such as McAfee (NYSE:MFE), Symantec (NASDAQ:SYMC), and VeriSign (NASDAQ:VRSN) -- people who know what they're doing and can figure out how to win the war without breaking laws.

Fool contributor Rich Smith owns no shares in any company mentioned in this article.