December 10, 2010

Facebook, Twitter Next Targets Of Wikileaks Hackers?

As rumors surfaced Thursday night that Facebook and Twitter could be the next targets of the Wikileaks-motivated team of hackers, officials from the US government vowed to investigate the attacks that had already briefly shut down MasterCard, Visa and PayPal affiliated websites.

The two social networking sites began closing accounts tied to the group 'Anonymous' on Thursday, said Jolie O'Dell of Mashable in a report written for CNN.com. Facebook was the first to act, terminating the unit's account, with Twitter following suit after the Anonymous twitter account was used to post what members claimed were MasterCard credit card account numbers.

In a separate CNN.com report, Ashley Fantz and Atika Shubert noted those actions could make the two social networking websites the next targets of what has been dubbed 'Operation: Payback.' The group, which has ties to the online message forum 4chan.com, launched their first Wikileaks-related cyberattacks following the arrest of the website's founder, Julian Assange, on rape and molestation charges.

However, as Fantz and Shubert reported, "The Anonymous crew existed long before the Wikileaks saga. In the past, they've launched attacks on websites of the Church of Scientology, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America. But by comparison, those were relatively anonymous, as it were."

The CNN reporters conducted an online interview with several individuals linked to Anonymous on Thursday. Those members said that the organization's primary goal is "freedom of information," and said that while Wikileaks "methods may be controversial, they do demand transparency, which is something we definitely support."

"While we can't say for certain what our ultimate goal is, the most important ones are--justice (not by current law, but by moral)--unlimited freedom of expression--taboo of censorship: nobody should silence somebody else," the Anonymous representatives continued, adding that their ultimate goal was a "utopian society" and that they had started their activities "to save and protect the freedom to share information freely without any censorship. We will fight until this primary goal has been achieved."

In related news, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin told the AP that her political action committee (PAC) website was also targeted by pro-Wikileaks hackers. According to the AP report, Palin--who last week referred to Assange as "an anti-American operative with blood on his hands"--told ABC News that the attacks were an example of what happens "when you exercise the First Amendment and speak against his sick, un-American espionage efforts."

The first arrests in the case were reported on Friday, as Chris Davis of Slash Gear reported that Dutch authorities had taken a 16-year-old into custody. According to Davis' story, the teenager had confessed to his involvement in the distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks on Visa, MasterCard, and Paypal, and prosecutors believe he is "probably part of a larger group of hackers."

The attacks have also caught the attention of American Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. According to Bloomberg writers Jeff Bliss and Justin Blum, Holder said that the federal government was "aware of the incidents" and confirmed that they were "looking into them."

Napolitano added that the US would be working with the "private sector" on these and other cybersecurity issues, and an unidentified Homeland Security official told Bliss and Blum that the department would be, in the words of the Bloomberg reporters, "working with companies to limit damages from the attacks."

On Thursday, according to Pete Yost, Holder also said that he hoped that the individuals responsible for publishing classified documents on Wikileaks in the first place would be brought to justice. Earlier this year, the website published secret documents pertaining to military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more recently they posted thousands of cables, many of which were top secret.

Likewise, Senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins weighed in on the debate, praising the companies who are cutting ties with the controversial website. According to the AFP, the senators released a statement which said that those firms were "doing the right thing as good corporate citizens and deserve the support of the American people."

"The Wikileaks data dump has jeopardized US national interests and the lives of intelligence sources around the world," Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, and Collins, a Republican from Maine, added in their joint statement. "We offer our admiration and support to those companies exhibiting courage and patriotism as they face down intimidation from hackers sympathetic to Wikileaks' philosophy of irresponsible information dumps for the sake of damaging global relationships."

The 39-year-old Assange himself was said to be in "high spirits" according to comments his legal team made to Australia's ABC News on Thursday. He was taken into custody on Tuesday and remanded to a British jail, pending an extradition hearing that could send him back to Sweden to face charges.

"Considering the circumstances, he is very well and in high spirits and very confident that we will be able to win on the bail application on Tuesday and beat this extradition," Assange lawyer Jennifer Robinson told Rachel Brown and the ABC News staff. "He is, of course, very frustrated to be held in prison because it does impede his access to his lawyers"¦ We only had an hour with him this afternoon, which is appallingly inadequate for the preparation of our next appeal."

Brown also denied rumors that Assange was behind the Anonymous cyberattacks, telling Brown that those "malicious allegations" were "absolutely false"¦ He did not make any such instruction, and indeed he sees that as a deliberate attempt to conflate hacking organizations [with] Wikileaks, which is not a hacking organization. It is a news organization and a publisher."

Likewise, on Friday morning, Davis reported that Wikileaks had posted a statement on their website, claiming that there had been "no contact" between their personnel and "anyone at Anonymous." Furthermore, the Slash Gear reporter quotes website spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson has saying that Wikileaks representatives "neither condemn nor applaud these attacks. We believe they are a reflection of public opinion on the actions of the targets."

Furthermore, Brown said that the media portrayal of Assange had been "very unfair" and that they were "worried about his safety given the very frequent and strong calls for his assassination."

In other Wikileaks related news, PayPal announced in a blog entry that they would release all of the remaining money contained in an account that had been established to raise money for the website, but confirmed that they would no longer accept donations for Wikileaks, and Amazon.com's UK website came under fire for allowing the sale of a self-published e-book containing excerpts from some of the cables published by Assange's website--despite the fact that they removed the site itself from their servers, citing a terms of service violation.

According to AP Technology Writer Dana Wollman, the Kindle-based e-book is only available in the UK, carries a price tag of 7.37 pounds ($11.60 in American money), and "consists of excerpts along with reports on reaction to the releases from media and government officials. It also has a list of the cables by originating embassy." It does not contain the original material posted to the Wikileaks website.


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