December 9, 2010

New Wikileaks-Motivated Cyber Attacks

After shutting down the websites of credit card giants Visa and Mastercard for parts of Wednesday, a group of hackers claiming to support Wikileaks vowed to continue the cyber attacks against companies who have broken ties with the website and founder Julian Assange.

According to Barbara Ortutay of the Associated Press (AP), MasterCard's website was targeted early Wednesday morning and was operational by mid-afternoon, Eastern Standard Time (EST). Visa's corporate website was inaccessible between 4pm EST and 6pm EST. A company spokesman told Ortutay that the network which processes Visa's credit card transactions was not affected.

Danny Kemp of AFP reports that the group, which has dubbed itself 'Anonymous,' launched their first distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack on Saturday, "taking down PayPal's blog, ThePayPalBlog.com, for at least eight hours."

The group has also targeted the Swiss Post Office bank, the Swedish prosecutor's office, and most recently the Swedish government, Kemp says, citing reports from the country's top newspaper.

A representative of the group calling himself 'Coldblood' appeared on the BBC television program Today on Thursday, claiming that "thousands" of individuals had joined what the group is calling a "war of data" and an attempt to "keep the internet free and open."

The group has been linked to online message forum 4chan, and one member told AFP that they would target anyone with "an anti-Wikileaks agenda" as part of what is being referred to as 'Operation: Payback.'

That member also told Kemp that the group currently numbered "around 4,000" and considered the 39-year-old Assange, who is currently in a British jail awaiting an extradition hearing which could send him back to Sweden to face rape and molestation charges, "a free speech martyr."

Also on Wednesday, Wikileaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson announced via Twitter that "the latest batch of cables" had been released--adding to the 250,000 some documents, many of which were labeled top secret or classified, by the website.

"We will not be gagged, either by judicial action or corporate censorship," Hrafnsson said, according to AP reports at the time. "Wikileaks is still online. The full site is duplicated in more than 500 locations. Every day, the cables are loaded more than 50 million times."

"The website attacks launched by supporters of Wikileaks show 21st-century cyber warfare evolving into a more amateur and anarchic affair than many predicted," Reuters Political Risk Correspondent Peter Apps said in a Thursday column.

"While most countries have plowed much more attention and resources into cyber security in recent years, most of the debate has focused on the threat from militant groups such as al Qaeda or mainstream state on state conflict," Apps added. "But attempts to silence Wikileaks after the leaking of some 250,000 classified State Department cables seem to have produced something rather different--something of a popular rebellion amongst hundreds or thousands of tech-savvy activists."


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