Operation Payback has begun.
As nicely summarized by the London Guardian, a "group of online activists calling themselves Anonymous appear to have orchestrated a DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack" on multiple organizations the group feels are censoring WikiLeaks and are unfairly targeting its editor in chief of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange.
The WikiLeaks web site itself was hit with a massive DDoS attack when it first began releasing the 250,000 confidential US diplomatic documents Mr. Assange had in his possession.
The "WikiLeaks Avengers' " (or cyber-anarchists if you are being less charitable) list of those deserving retaliation in kind is long.
Before we go further, let do a short review of what has happened that has caused the retribution. A more detailed timeline can be found here at the London Guardian.
Julian Assange was arrested in London earlier this week on a European Arrest Warrant from Swedish authorities for suspected rape, a charge he denies. Bail has been denied.
In addition, the US Department of Justice has announced that it is actively examining different options to prosecute Mr. Assange, possibly for espionage.
Further, Amazon.comended the hosting of the WikiLeaks web site after apparent pressure by the US government (which Amazondenies).
Concurrently, PayPal, MasterCard, Visa and the Swiss Post Office Bank, all said that they would stop processing donations to WikiLeaks and/or freeze its assets.
PayPal also said, when it suspended WikiLeaks account on a week ago, that "it wasn't contacted by any government agency and took the action on its own," according to this story in Bloomberg News.
However, a story in yesterday's London Guardian quoted PayPal's vice-president of platform, Osama Bedier, as stating that the US Department of State:
"... wrote a letter [to PayPal] saying that the WikiLeaks' activities were deemed illegal in the United States and as a result our policy group had to make the decision of suspending the account."
So much for no US government contact or pressure on PayPal or likely the others.
The UN High Commissioner for Human RightsNavi Pillay has expressed concern today over US and other governmental pressure on PayPal, Visa, etc. to stop taking donations for WikiLeaks. A Reutersstory reports her stating that if WikiLeaks has done something illegal, it should be addressed through the legal system. Doing otherwise could violate WikiLeaks' right to freedom of expression.
Anyway, the WikiLeaks Avengers have, through their DDoS attacks, been able to bring down for a time the web sites of MasterCard, Visa, and the Swedish prosecutor who sought Mr. Assange's arrest. PayPal is high on the list to be taken down. The attacks against Amazon apparently have failed, at least so far.
Former US Vice-President candidate Sarah Palin, who has stated that Mr. Assange is "an anti-American operative with blood on his hands" has seen her web site attacked as well.
More DDoS attacks are being promised, as this mini-cyberwar continues. When will it stop is anyone's guess, for as I said earlier, the target list is long.
One last note, the Amazon.com UK site is reportedly now selling WikiLeaks documents.
I wonder if the US government is going to go after Amazon now, and if not, I wonder if Mr. Assange's big mistake is that gave away the US diplomatic documents for free, instead of charging money for them.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.