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Wiki War Breaks Out

Vigilantes acting in support of Assange's rogue site started unleashing a torrent of punishing denial of service attacks

Even before WikiLeaks mastermind Julian Assange got hauled off to Wandsworth Prison in southwest London Tuesday, vigilantes acting in support of his rogue site started unleashing a torrent of punishing denial of service attacks on the financial institutions that turned the spigot off on the donations WikiLeaks needs to survive and pay Assange's legal bills.

That includes PayPal, MasterCard, Visa and the Swiss Post bank.

Amazon.com, which booted WikiLeaks off its cloud last week, was threatened again Thursday but reportedly the new avenging angel lacked the "forces" given Amazon's EC2-style elasticity. The ruffians pushed on to PayPal. Twitter is also a possible target for not allowing WikiLeaks discussions to "trend" to the top of the heap.

The attacks, which WikiLeaks refused neither to "condemn nor applaud" and which the US government is now investigating, brought down the web sites of Visa, MasterCard and the Swiss Post bank PostFinance.

Authorities apparently don't believe WikiLeaks and its leader aren't responsible for the attack and moved Assange to a segregated part of the prison where there is limited computer access, according to the Guardian Thursday.

PostFinance, which has so far suffered the most, was first hit on Monday and was down most of Tuesday preventing depositors from doing online banking; mastercard.com was still impossible to reach Wednesday but its core business was reportedly unaffected. Ditto Visa whose web site crashed Wednesday.

The attacks, however, have continued with reports of interference with MasterCard payment operations and from our own in-house experience with Visa Thursday that appeared to be true.

PayPal, which pulled WikiLeaks' account last Friday, has reportedly been hit too but seemed to bear up aside from some difficulties with its blog and Thursday with its web site.

The web site of the Swedish prosecutor's office, which is pressing the sex crimes case against Assange, was down Tuesday into Wednesday and then the web site and e-mail system of the law firm for the two Swedish women who brought the complaint were attacked.

So too Sarah Palin's web site and US Senator Joe Lieberman's, both outspoken WikiLeaks critics. At press time, the US Senate web site was a target.

Oddly enough the web site of the hysterically liberal Democratic senator from California Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and suddenly finds herself in Lieberman's company, is so far untouched. Guess the mob doesn't have a subscription to the Wall Street Journal where she wrote an op-ed saying Assange should be hauled into court for violating the Espionage Act of 1917.

Dubbed Operation Payback, the revenge attacks are the work of an army of maybe 1,500-but-swelling self-styled "hacktivists" associated with the so-called Anonymous hacker coalition that has previously attacked the Church of Scientology and RIAA for its anti-piracy moves.

When Operation Payback first started, these modern-day Vikings said, "While we don't have much of an affiliation with WikiLeaks, we fight for the same reasons. We want transparency and counter censorship."

After the marauders downed the Visa and MasterCard web sites Wednesday, Facebook killed an Operation Payback page where it appeared the vandals have been congregating, congratulating each other and getting their marching orders.

Facebook said the page was removed "for violating our Terms of Use," which outlaw hate speech, threats of violence and bullying.

It appears it was an idle gesture since they just regrouped elsewhere on Facebook.

Twitter, where the timing of some of the attacks has been posted, tried to do the same thing after a file appeared that seemed to contain credit card information. MasterCard said it was bogus.

In retaliation Anonymous has been hit and WikiLeaks itself has been under sporadic DDoS attacks since it started releasing stolen US embassy cables.

After WikiLeaks got kicked off Amazon's cloud last week and lost its wikileaks.org domain to DDoS attacks on EveryDNS.net, WikiLeaks borrowed a Swiss web address belonging to the Swiss Pirate Party and reportedly now has DNS servers in 14 countries and a thousand mirror sites.

It also took out an "insurance" policy.

Before turning himself in, Assange claimed he sent a practically biblical army of 100,000 fellow travelers a stockpile of secret national and commercial information that he threatened would be decrypted and released if something happened to him. His lawyers called it a "thermonuclear device."

On Tuesday WikiLeaks said it wouldn't send out the decryption code just yet. A spokesman told the AP it will only be used if "grave matters" take place involving WikiLeaks staff. What that means is unclear.

Indicative of what the file might contain WikiLeaks, in a shot across the establishment's bow Monday, released a list of critical foreign infrastructure assets such as pipelines, mines, trans-Atlantic cables, food sources and pharmaceutical supplies that are important to the security of the United States not to mention its allies. The list is a terrorist's dream.

The AP said British Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned the disclosure, telling the BBC it was a "reprehensible" act committed "without regard to wider concerns of security, the security of millions of people."

The wire service said it decided against publishing the list "due to the sensitive nature of the information." The BBC linked to the list on WikiLeaks and the AP wants to know why. It said the BBC didn't respond.

The list was part of the huge cache of 252,000 stolen diplomatic cables and State Department documents that WikiLeaks started releasing last week to the detriment of international relations. Nothing so far comes close to the dictionary definition of whistle-blowing, just voyeurism and general mayhem.

The Telegraph speculates that the financial giants are acting in lockstep because Assange made the "fatal mistake" of threatening to bring down a major US bank with New Year's revelations supposedly akin to Enron. Fingers pointed at Bank of America.

The paper figures such a thing cuts a little too close to home for all of them especially in the middle of a recession.

WikiLeaks still has a post office box in Australia and bank accounts in Germany and Iceland to accept donations.

Wading into the fray Tuesday, possibly to heighten its non-existent profile, a Philadelphia start-up financial processing service called Xipwire (say Zipwire) has offered to handle WikiLeaks donations via debit and credit cards over cell phones.

It said on its site, "While people may or may not agree with WikiLeaks, we at Xipwire believe that anyone who wishes to support the organization through a donation should be able to do so." It said it is "waiving all fees so that 100 percent of the donations collected will be directly passed on to WikiLeaks." The AP says it holding the money in an escrow account since it hasn't been able to make contact with WikiLeaks.

Of course, if WikiLeaks is declared a terrorist organization, as the incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee wants, US banks would be prohibited from processing payments and it would be a felony to provide the group with "material support or resources."

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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