|Army of Hackers Targets the Swedish Government, Sarah Palin and Credit Card Giants in WikiLeaks 'Operation: Payback'|
Colin Fernandez & Laura Caroe - Daily Mail UK
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December 09, 2010
Related: Wikileaks: Stop Us? You'll Have to Shut Down the Web
Computer hackers have sent two of the world’s biggest credit card companies into meltdown in revenge for cutting off payments to the WikiLeaks website.
|Operation: Payback was formed in September to target groups opposed to internet piracy.|
The attack was launched by a shadowy international group called ‘Anonymous’ which said MasterCard and Visa had been targeted for freezing the account of the whistleblowing site.
The devastating blow to the credit card giants came on one of the busiest online shopping days of the year.
Hackers also targeted online payment system PayPal, Amazon and a Swiss bank over the WikiLeaks row.
The Swedish government's website was also brought down this morning after a fresh wave of cyber attacks together with former US vice presidential hopeful Sarah Palin.
Mrs Palin's website, SarahPAC.com, has been targeted as well as her personal credit card information.
SarahPAC aide Rebecca Mansour told ABC news:'No wonder others are keeping silent about (WikiLeaks founder Julian) Assange's antics.
'This is what happens when you exercise the First Amendment and speak against his sick, un-American espionage efforts.'
Palin sparked fury among WikiLeaks supporters when she urged the US goverment to pursue Assange in the same way it sought Taliban leaders.
Yesterday, a six-hour stoppage on the Mastercard secure code system is thought to have affected hundreds of thousands of shoppers worldwide and highlights how vulnerable the world’s computer systems are to attack.
Last night Visa website was also taken down for a period after it came under attack.
It is thought just a few dozen ‘hacktivists’ launched the electronic onslaught, which was taken up by thousands of other supporters.
The ‘distributed denial of service’ (DDoS) attack involved around 5,000 computers bombarding the website’s host computers with requests for information, causing them to crash.
WikiLeaks has been publishing classified U.S. diplomatic cables, to the fury of Washington authorities.
They have lobbied to cut off all support for the website which they are desperate to shut down.
Yesterday a spokesman for Anonymous, calling himself ‘Coldblood’, a 22-year-old computer programmer based in London, said: ‘Websites that are bowing down to government pressure have become targets.
'As an organisation we have always taken a strong stance on censorship and freedom of expression on the internet and come out against those who seek to destroy it by any means.
‘We feel that WikiLeaks has become more than just about leaking of documents, it has become a war ground, the people versus the government.
‘The idea is not to wipe them off but to give the companies a wake-up call.’
In a further communique online, Anonymous warned: ‘We will fire at anything or anyone that tries to censor WikiLeaks, including multibillion-dollar companies such as PayPal.’
The spokesman added that the group’s intention ‘was to be a force for chaotic good’.
Anonymous has previously been linked to attacks on websites belonging to the Church of Scientology and the music industry.
Yesterday’s onslaught was dubbed ‘Operation: Payback’. MasterCard first reported an attack which partially shut down its corporate website Mastercard.com at around 9.30am yesterday.
Initially it said no customers had been affected. But by the evening the attacks had escalated and it is thought hundreds of thousands of online transactions were stopped.
The problem came about when shoppers tried to pay for their purchases and were redirected to a website run by MasterCard called Securecode.
This site was not authorising payments so the transactions could not be completed.
MasterCard declined to confirm that customers had been affected. But in a statement made to a respected website it reportedly said it suffered ‘a service disruption to the MasterCard Directory Server’ and added that ‘customers may still be experiencing intermittent connectivity issues’.
Last night MasterCard said in a statement from its HQ in New York that its systems had not been compromised by ‘a concentrated effort to flood our corporate web site with traffic and slow access’.
It said: ‘We are working to restore normal service levels. There is no impact on our cardholders’ ability to use their cards for secure transactions globally.’
A spokesman for Visa said the site experienced 'heavier than normal traffic' and repeated attempts to load the Visa.com and Visa.co.uk sites were met without success.
A PayPal executive admitted the firm stopped processing WikileLeaks' payments after being pressured by the US State Department.
Speaking at a conference in Paris, Osama Bedier said: 'The US State Deptartment told us these were illegal activities. It was straightforward.'
According to the website TechCrunch, the admission was greeted by a chorus of boos from the audience.
Bedier, a PayPal vice president, added: 'We first comply with regulations around the world making sure that we protect our brand.'
He claimed the State Department branded WikiLeaks illegal on November 27.
But in a statement released last night, PayPal's general counsel John Muller insisted the State Department had not been in contact with the firm.
He added that while the WikiLeaks account will remain restricted, 'PayPal will release all remaining funds in the account to the foundation that was raising funds for WikiLeaks'.
The statement continued: 'We understand that PayPal’s decision has become part of a broader story involving political, legal and free speech debates surrounding WikiLeaks’ activities.
'None of these concerns factored into our decision. Our only consideration was whether or not the account associated with WikiLeaks violated our Acceptable Use Policy and regulations required of us as a global payment company.
'Our actions in this matter are consistent with any account found to be in violation of our policies.'
DDoS attacks, which are illegal in the UK, involve overloading a website with high numbers of requests so it stops working.
In a blog linked to its Twitter account, Anonymous wrote: 'Hello World. We are Anonymous. What you do or do not know about us is irrelevant. We have decided to write to you, the media, and all citizens of the free world at large to inform you of the message, our intentions, potential targets, and our ongoing peaceful campaign for freedom.
'The message is simple: freedom of speech. Anonymous is peacefully campaigning for freedom of speech everywhere in all forms. Freedom of speech for: the internet, for journalism and journalists, and citizens of the world at large. Regardless of what you think or have to say; Anonymous is campaigning for you.'
The post continued: 'The internet is the last bastion of freedom in this evolving technical world. The internet is capable of connecting us all.
'When we are connected we are strong. When we are strong we have power. When we have power we are able to do the impossible. This is why the government is moving on WikiLeaks. This is what they fear. They fear our power when we unite. Do not forget this.'
Their blog post vowing to fight any organisation which supports censorship came as WikiLeaks' payment processor, DataCell, said it was preparing to take legal action against the credit card companies over their refusal to process donations.
DataCell ehf chief executive Andreas Fink said in a statement: 'It is obvious that Visa is under political pressure to close us down. We strongly believe a world-class company such as Visa should not get involved in politics and just simply do their business where they are good at. Transferring money.'
Anonymous said it was leading a 'peaceful campaign' and denied being a terrorist or vigilante organisation.
The blog post continued: 'Anonymous is doing what many successful campaigns have done in the past; a sit-in. It may be hard to comprehend, but a digital sit-in is our most effective method to show that all of us deserve freedom of speech and a free internet.
'Our methods may appear, on the outside, to be cruel to those the entities that we are campaigning against, but remember by supporting censorship they are denying everyone a basic human right.'
Fears were raised in the Twitter-sphere last night that the microblogging site might become the next target after the group's account, Anon-Operation, was closed and Anonymous posted a statement claiming: 'Twitter you're next for censoring WikiLeaks discussion.'
But in a further posting on Anonops, the group said: 'We are not hacking Twitter... DON'T WORRY!... All we are saying that they closed our official account and that is not FREE SPEECH!'
Some supporters accuse Twitter of preventing the term 'WikiLeaks' appearing on the site's popular trending topics, a claim that Twitter has denied.
As well as DDoS attacks, Anonymous is helping to create hundreds of mirror sites for WikiLeaks, allowing users to continue to access the website's content via a different server.
WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, 39, has been remanded in custody over claims that he sexually assaulted two Swedish women.
The websites of the Swedish Prosecutor and the lawyer representing the women were attacked yesterday.
Other websites targeted included those of U.S. senator Joe Lieberman, an outspoken critic of WikiLeaks.