Hackers cripple MasterCard in payback for WikiLeaks ban
WikiLeaks supporters struck back yesterday, targetting perceived enemies of the site and its jailed founder Julian Assange, launching hacker attacks against MasterCard, Swedish prosecutors, a Swedish lawyer and a Swiss group that froze Mr Assange's bank account.
So-called "hacktivists" operating under the label "Operation Payback" claimed responsibility in a Twitter message for causing technological problems at MasterCard, which pulled the plug on its relationship with WikiLeaks on Tuesday.
MasterCard said it was "experiencing heavy traffic," but spokesman James Issokson would not confirm whether WikiLeaks was involved. Issokson said MasterCard was trying to restore service yesterday but was not sure how long that would take. The website's technical problems had no impact on consumers using credit cards, he added.
MasterCard is the latest in a string of US-based Internet companies -- including Visa, Amazon.com, PayPal Inc. and EveryDNS -- to cut ties to WikiLeaks in recent days amid intense US government pressure.
The online attacks are part of a wave of support for WikiLeaks that is sweeping the Internet. Offline, the organisation is under pressure on many fronts. Assange is in a British prison fighting extradition to Sweden over a sex crimes case. Moves by Swiss Postfinance, MasterCard, PayPal and others that cut ways to send donations to the group have impaired its ability to raise money.
Undeterred, WikiLeaks released more confidential US cables overnight.
The pro-WikiLeaks vengeance campaign appeared to be taking the form of denial of service attacks in which computers are harnessed -- sometimes surreptitiously -- to jam target sites with mountains of requests for data, knocking them out of commission.
PayPal's vice-president of platform, Osama Bedier, said the company froze WikiLeaks' account after seeing a letter from the US State Department to WikiLeaks saying that "WikiLeaks activities were deemed illegal in the United States".
"It's honestly just pretty straightforward from our perspective," he said, speaking at a web conference in Paris.
Neither WikiLeaks nor Assange has been charged with any offence in the US, but the US government is investigating whether Assange can be prosecuted for espionage or other offenses.
Assange has not been charged with any offences in Sweden either, but authorities there want to question him about the allegations of sex crimes.
Per Hellqvist, a security specialist with the firm Symantec, said a network of web activists called Anonymous appeared to be behind many of the attacks. The group, which has previously focused on the Church of Scientology and the music industry, is knocking offline websites seen as hostile to WikiLeaks.
"While we don't have much of an affiliation with WikiLeaks, we fight for the same reasons," the group said in a statement. "We want transparency and we counter censorship . . . we intend to utilise our resources to raise awareness, attack those against and support those who are helping lead our world to freedom and democracy."
The website for Swedish lawyer Claes Borgstrom, who represents the two women at the centre of Assange's sex crimes case, was unreachable Wednesday.
The Swiss postal system's financial arm, Postfinance, which shut down Assange's bank account on Monday, was also having trouble. Spokesman Alex Josty said the website buckled under a barrage of traffic.