In a campaign that had some declaring the start of a ‘cyberwar,’ hundreds of WikiLeaks’ Hackers mounted retaliatory attacks on Wednesday on the Web sites of multinational companies and other organizations they deemed hostile to the WikiLeaks antisecrecy organization and its jailed founder, Julian Assange.
Within 12 hours of a British judge’s decision on Tuesday to deny Wikileaks’s founder bail in a Swedish extradition case, attacks on the Web sites of WikiLeaks’s ‘enemies,’ as defined by the organization’s impassioned supporters around the world, caused several corporate Web sites to become inaccessible or slow down markedly, reports The New York Times.
In what they called “Operation Payback”, the army of computer hackers targeted corporate websites including Mastercard webiste, which had stopped processing donations for WikiLeaks; Amazon.com, which revoked the use of its computer servers; and PayPal, which stopped accepting donations for Mr. Assange’s group.
Visa.com website was also affected by the hackers attacks, as were the Web sites of the Swedish prosecutor’s office and the lawyer representing the two women whose allegations of sexual misconduct are the basis of Sweden’s extradition bid.
The cyberattacks in Assange’s defense appear to have been coordinated by Anonymous – a loosely affiliated group of activist computer hackers, who have singled out other groups before, and thought to be 1,500 to 2,000-strong – flooded the websites of the credit card companies, with millions of bogus visits.
The activist, Gregg Housh, who disavows a personal role in any illegal online activity, said that 1,500 supporters had been in online forums and chat rooms organizing the mass “denial of service” attacks.
On Wednesday night Sarah Palin, the former US Vice-presidential candidate who called for Assange to be pursued like al-Qaeda, said her website Sarahpac.com had also been attacked by Anonymous.
“No wonder others are keeping silent about Assange’s antics,” Palin emailed ABC News. “This is what happens when you exercise the First Amendment and speak against his sick, un-American espionage efforts.”
Mrs Palin also claimed that personal credit cards accounts belonging to her and her husband had been disrupted. Hackers posted what it claimed was a list of credit card numbers online, but this was dismissed as fake.
Palin has criticized Wikileaks founder Assange, writing on Facebook that his “past posting of classified documents revealed the identity of more than 100 Afghan sources to the Taliban. Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders?”
He continued: “Assange is not a ‘journalist’ any more than the ‘editor’ of al-Qaeda’s new English-language magazine Inspire is a ‘journalist.’ He is an anti-American operative with blood on his hands.”
Earlier the hackers have targeted Amazon, one of the largest U.S. online retailer, which provoked their fury by withdrawing server space being used by WikiLeaks to host the government documents.
PayPal admitted it blocked payments to the group – which is embarrassing the US government by steadily releasing a cache of more than 250,000 cables – amid pressure from the State department.
Anonymous’s “distributed denial of service” attacks, which have become the standard weapon of cyber warfare, appeared to have temporarily crippled the companies websites last night.
They also brought down the sites of Swedish prosecutors, who are pursuing Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, over allegations of sex crimes, and of the lawyer of his alleged victims.
The group encouraged volunteers to download a piece of software that would allow them to remotely take control of their computers and harness their power for further attacks on their targeted firms.
While the companies sought to play down the potential impact on consumers, at least one payment service using Mastercard said that its customers were experiencing “a complete loss of service”.
In a statement, the group of hackers said: “We will fire at anything or anyone that tries to censor WikiLeaks, including multibillion-dollar companies.”
A spokesman for MasterCard said it was “working to restore normal service levels” following “a concentrated effort to flood our corporate web site with traffic and slow access.”
A spokesman for Visa said its websites were ‘experiencing heavier than normal traffic.’ She added: “We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause cardholders, however this has no impact whatsoever in making a payment with Visa.”
The hackers have threatened to turn their sites on to Twitter, the micro-blogging website, which it accuses of censoring discussion of WikiLeaks.
Twitter has denied this and says the group has misunderstood the way the site states which topics are “trending”, or being discussed most often by users.
The cyberattacks on corporations Wednesday were seen by many supporters as a counterstrike against the U.S. Mr. Assange’s online supporters have widely condemned the Obama administration as the unseen hand coordinating efforts to choke off WikiLeaks by denying it financing and suppressing its network of computer servers.
Gregg Housh described Mr. Assange in an interview as ‘a political prisoner,’ a common view among WikiLeaks supporters who have joined Mr. Assange in condemning the sexual abuse accusations as part of an American-inspired ‘smear campaign.’ [via The Telegraph (UK), Mashable and ABC News]