If the WikiLeaks saga were a comic book, it would be starting to look a lot like the Justice League of America vs. the League of Supervillians—or maybe it's more like Star Wars, with the plucky rebel alliance up against the might of the Empire. As the U.S. government and a variety of corporations, such as Visa (V) and PayPal (EBAY), keep up the pressure on the document-leaking organization that they see as a traitor and a scofflaw, a rough alliance of supporters have taken it upon themselves to wage a cyberwar in WikiLeaks' defense by attacking the websites of those and other companies.
Leading the fight is a shadowy group called Operation Payback, which in turn is loosely affiliated with Anonymous, an organization (although that term makes it sound more coordinated than it really is) that grew out of the alternative website 4chan and became infamous for its attacks on Scientology, among other things. At last check, the Operation Payback site itself was offline—another symptom of the back-and-forth battle in which the group has been coordinating "distributed denial of service," or DDOS, attacks on Amazon (AMZN), PayPal, Visa, and MasterCard (MA). Also in this loose federation are the Pirate Bay—the file-sharing operation in Sweden's Pirate Party, which has been providing servers for the WikiLeaks documents—and Flattr, the "tip jar" service that is now one of the few ways to donate money to WikiLeaks and that was started by Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde.
Outbreak of Cyberbattles
Amazon, PayPal, Visa, and MasterCard have cut off support for WikiLeaks in the past week, despite the fact that it's not clear the organization has actually done anything illegal by publishing classified military documents (something The New York Times (NYT) and The Guardian have also done). In a statement on its website, Operation Payback quoted digital guru John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who said on Twitter that "The first serious infowar is now engaged. The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are the troops." Operation Payback added that:
"While we don't have much of an affiliation with WikiLeaks, we fight for the same reasons. We want transparency and we counter censorship. The attempts to silence WikiLeaks are long strides closer to a world where we can not say what we think and are unable to express our opinions and ideas."
It's not clear how much disruption the group and its supporters have been able to create, however. MasterCard's website was down for at least part of Wednesday, but the company said its cardholders and payment systems were not affected. PayPal said it suffered a denial-of-service attack on Monday but that it was dealt with fairly rapidly.By midday Wednesday, Operation Payback had moved on to its next target—Visa, whose website went down within minutes of the group posting about the attack on Twitter. The website for the Swedish bank that froze WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange's accounts went down for at least part of Tuesday, but the bank's other operations appeared to be unaffected.
In other words, the Empire remains strong. Meanwhile, after sending out a plea for ways to keep the site up and running following the removal of DNS services by its provider EveryDNS, WikiLeaks now has more than 1,200 mirror sites set up—many of them in Europe—through which it can publish any documents instantly. The site has also taken a number of other steps that will make it virtually impossible to remove it completely from the Internet (including having at least some of its servers hosted by the Pirate Bay, the file-sharing network based in Sweden), and Assange has said more than 10,000 sites have full copies of the diplomatic cables.
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