[THS] NYtimes: Hackers Attack Those Seen as WikiLeaks Enemies
The Harder Stuff in news and commentary
ths at psalience.org
Thu Dec 9 14:57:01 CET 2010
December 8, 2010
Hackers Attack Those Seen as WikiLeaks Enemies
Cyberattacks Are Retaliation for Pressure on WikiLeaks
By JOHN F. BURNS and RAVI SOMAIYA
LONDON In a campaign that had some declaring the start of a "cyber war,"
hundreds of Internet activists 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 Mr. Assange 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 unavailable or slow down markedly.
Targets of the attacks included Mastercard.com, which had stopped processing
donations for WikiLeaks; Amazon.com, which revoked the use of its computer
servers; and the online payment service PayPal, which cut off its services.
Visa.com was also affected by the attacks, as was the Web site 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 Internet assaults underlined the growing reach of self-described "cyber
anarchists," antigovernment and anticorporate activists who have made an icon of
Mr. Assange, whom they consider one of their own.
The attacks also appeared to show renewed support for Mr. Assange, a 39-year-old
Australian, who has appeared increasingly isolated in recent months amid the furor
stoked by WikiLeaks's Web site posting of hundreds of thousands of secret Pentagon
documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Even some of his closest associates abandoned him. He has come under renewed
attack in the past two weeks for posting the first tranche of a trove of 250,000 secret
State Department cables.
Mr. Assange has been simultaneously fighting a remote battle with the Swedish
prosecutors, who have sought his extradition for questioning on accusations of "rape,
sexual molestation and forceful coercion" made by the Swedish women. Mr. Assange
has denied any wrongdoing in the cases.
American officials have repeatedly said that they are reviewing possible criminal
charges against Mr. Assange, raising the possibility of his having to fight for his
freedom on two fronts. The New York Times and four other news organizations last
week began publishing articles based on the archive of cables made available to
The cyber attacks in Mr. 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, including the Church of Scientology. Last weekend,
members of Anonymous vowed in two online manifestos to take revenge on any
organization that lined up against WikiLeaks.
Anonymous claimed responsibility for the MasterCard attack in Web messages and,
according to one activist associated with the group, continued to conduct multiple
and repeated waves of attacks on MasterCard and other companies during the day.
The activist, Gregg Housh, who disavows any personal role in illegal online activity,
said in a telephone interview that 1,500 supporters had been in online forums and
chat rooms organizing mass and repeated "denial of service" attacks on some of the
companies. His account was confirmed by Jose Nazario, a senior security researcher
at Arbor Networks, a Chelmsford, Mass., firm that tracks malicious activity on
Almost all the corporate Web sites that were attacked appeared to be operating
normally later on Wednesday. But the sense of an Internet war was reinforced when
Netcraft, a British Internet monitoring firm, reported that the Web site being used by
the hackers to distribute denial-of-service software had been suspended by a Dutch
hosting firm, Leaseweb.
In a denial of service attack, many computers are harnessed together to transmit
streams of data packets at a target computer, overwhelming its ability to process the
A sense of the belligerent mood among activists associated with the Anonymous
group was given when one contributor to a forum the group uses, whyweprotest.net,
wrote of the attacks: "The war is on. And everyone ought to spend some time
thinking about it, discussing it with others, preparing yourselves so you know how to
act if something compels you to make a decision. Be very careful not to err on the
side of inaction."
Mr. Housh acknowledged that there had been online talk among the hackers of an
Internet campaign against the two Swedish women who have been Mr. Assange's
accusers in the Swedish extradition case, but he said that the issue remained
"touchy" and that "a lot of people don't want to be involved."
A Web search showed new blog posts in recent days in which the two women,
identified by the Swedish prosecutors only as Ms. A. and Ms. W., were named, but it
was not clear whether there was any link to Anonymous, or to a concerted campaign
of any kind. Previous posts naming the two women appeared on Web sites
supporting Mr. Assange a few days after their accusations surfaced in late August.
The attacks were seen by many supporting them online as a counterstrike against the
United States. Mr. Assange's online supporters have widely condemned the United
States as the unseen hand coordinating efforts to choke off WikiLeaks by denying it
financing and suppressing its network of computer servers.
Borrowing from the lexicon favored by Mr. Assange, who has depicted WikiLeaks's
efforts as part of a millennial struggle to free the world from entrenched elites, many
of the computer activists backing the online attacks have spoken of him as standing
on "the front line" of a struggle pitting a vast if amorphous WikiLeaks following
against the United States.
Mr. Housh, an American activist, described Mr. Assange in an interview as "a political
prisoner," a common view among WikiLeaks supporters who have joined Mr. Assange
in condemning the Swedish accusations of sexual abuse as part of an American-
inspired "smear campaign" to discredit him and WikiLeaks.
Another activist used the analogy of the civil rights struggle.
"This is the modern equivalent of a lunch counter sit-in," a contributor using the
name Moryath wrote in a comment on the slashdot.org technology Web site. "Are
they "disrupting business? Perhaps, but no worse than the lunch counter sit-ins did."
John Markoff and Ashlee Vance contributed reporting from San Francisco.
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