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Thursday, December 9, 2010

"Operation Payback" Net Freedom Of Speech Advocates Rally: 5 Recent Attacks ("Hacktivists")

Hackers Rally To Support WikiLeaks: Top 5 Recent Attacks

In an effort nicknamed "Operation Payback," a loose association of hackers called "Anonymous" has been targeting the websites of companies and organizations that have cut ties with WikiLeaks by overwhelming their sites with traffic, prompting them to shut down. Twitter and Facebook have blocked accounts for Anonymous, citing the illegality of their attacks as a terms-of-service violation. WikiLeaks' Facebook and Twitter accounts remain up and running.

“Of course, Anonymous is expected to keep creating new accounts as quickly as Facebook and Twitter squash them; it’s a bit like Whack-a-Mole or doing battle with a hydra, in that sense,” said social media news website Mashable. "Fighting Anonymous is a task we wouldn’t wish on anyone."

Below are some of the most notable attacks:

1.) Mastercard and Visa

Mastercard was the first credit-card company to come under attack by hackers, and attacks on Visa soon followed – both launched in retaliation for the companies’ refusal to process donations to WikiLeaks. At various points Wednesday, parts or all of their websites were down, MSNBC reported.

NPR reported Thursday that WikiLeaks’ payment processor, Iceland's DataCell ehf, is preparing to sue both companies for their decision to block the funds, which it claimed is costing the company money.

"It's difficult to believe that such a large company as Visa can make a political decision," [CEO Andreas] Fink said in a telephone interview from Switzerland. In an earlier statement, his company had defended the WikiLeaks, saying that "it is simply ridiculous to think WikiLeaks has done anything criminal."

2.) Paypal

Paypal, which stopped accepting payments for donations to WikiLeaks, was another one of the early victims of hacker attacks. Its blog was down earlier in the week and its main website was inaccessible for several hours Wednesday, according to Computer World. Access was sporadic into Thursday morning. Because Paypal relies on people being able to log in to its site, the company is taking a financial hit from the attacks.

According to Reuters, a spokesman for the group of hackers confirmed that it was executing attacks on Paypal, among others.

3.) Swiss bank Postfinance

The Swiss bank Postfinance, a financial branch of the Swiss postal system, has been struggling to stay online as well after it shut down one of the key WikiLeaks bank accounts.

According to Fox News, Postfinance spokesman Alex Josty said the website “buckled under a barrage of traffic” on Tuesday but that the attacks have eased up. "It was very, very difficult, then things improved overnight," he told the AP. "But it's still not entirely back to normal."

4.) Swedish government

Reuters reported that the Swedish government’s website was down overnight Wednesday. Sweden has issued an arrest warrant for Assange.

The New York Times also reported that the websites of the Swedish prosecutor’s office and the lawyer representing the women involved in the charges against Assange were down at various points.

5.) Sarah Palin

Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has been a vocal critic of WikiLeaks, and hackers are fighting back. Computer World UK reported that her personal website was down Thursday morning local time and in an email to ABC news, said that her and her husband’s credit card information had been hacked.

The attacks come only a week after Palin … said the Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, should be hunted down in the way armed forces target the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

In an outburst on Facebook, Palin had branded Assange “an anti-American operative with blood on his hands”.

After the attack on her site, Palin wrote: “This is what happens when you exercise the First Amendment and speak against [Assange’s] sick, un-American espionage efforts.”

Hackers have also hit websites belonging to WikiLeaks critics such as US Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, according to Computer World.

WikiLeaks: Who Are The Hackers Behind Operation Payback?

The MasterCard website was forced offline for several hours today, following an online assault led by a shadowy group of hackers protesting against the card issuer's decision to block payments made to the WikiLeaks website.

The "distributed denial of service" attack was apparently orchestrated by a "hacktivist" group calling itself Anonymous, which has in recent days temporarily paralysed the websites of Post Finance, the Swiss bank which closed WikiLeaks frontman Julian Assange's account, and the website of the Swedish prosecution office.

Twitter is next in its sights, following allegations that the social networking site is "censoring" visibility of the breadth of discussion of WikiLeaks by preventing it from appearing in Twitter's "trends". Twitter has denied that it is doing this, saying its systems identify topics that are "being talked about more right now than they were previously" – which doesn't include WikiLeaks.

But who, or what, is – or are – Anonymous?

A 22-year-old spokesman, who wished to be known only as "Coldblood", told the Guardian that the group – which is about a thousand strong – is "quite a loose band of people who share the same kind of ideals" and wish to be a force for "chaotic good".

There is no real command structure in the group, the London-based spokesman said, while most of its members are teenagers who are "trying to make an impact on what happens with the limited knowledge they have". But others are parents, IT professionals and people who happen to have time – and resources – on their hands.

The group has gained notoriety for its attacks on copyright-enforcement agencies and organisations such as the Church of Scientology.

Anonymous was born out of the influential internet messageboard 4chan, a forum popular with hackers and gamers, in 2003. The group's name is a tribute to 4chan's early days, when any posting to its forums where no name was given was ascribed to "Anonymous". But the ephemeral group, which picks up causes "whenever it feels like it", has now "gone beyond 4Chan into something bigger", its spokesman said.

The membership of Anonymous is impossible to pin down; it has been described as being like a flock of birds – the only way you can identify members is by what they're doing together. Essentially, once enough people on the 4chan message boards decide that an issue is worth pursuing in large enough numbers, it becomes an "Anonymous" cause.

The group counts the current campaign in support of WikiLeaks as "probably one of [its] most high profile yet". The group gained notoriety more recently for a number of sustained assaults against the sites of US music industry body RIAA, Kiss musician Gene Simmons, and solicitors' firms involved in lawsuits against people suspected of illegal filesharing. In early 2008, Anonymous launched a campaign against the Church of Scientology, bringing down related websites and promising to "expel" the religion from the internet.

"We're against corporations and government interfering on the internet," Coldblood added. "We believe it should be open and free for everyone. Governments shouldn't try to censor because they don't agree with it.

"Anonymous is supporting WikiLeaks not because we agree or disagree with the data that is being sent out, but we disagree with any from of censorship on the internet. If we let WikiLeaks fall without a fight then governments will think they can just take down any sites they wish or disagree with."

The spokesman said Anonymous plans to "move away" from DDoS attacks and instead focus on "methods to support" WikiLeaks, such as mirroring the site. "There's no doubt in [Anonymous members'] mind that they are breaking [the] law," he said of the latest attacks. "But they feel that there's safety in numbers."

Anonymous refused to say whether it would target government-owned websites next, but warned: "anything goes."

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Sources: Amazon, Christian Science Monitor,, Mastercard, MSNBC, Paypal, RT, Youtube, Google Maps

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