The online cyber war being waged against companies that have refused to help WikiLeaks intensified dramatically yesterday.At the same time supporters in the US of the army and Sarah Palin started to lob Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks back to WikiLeaks trying to block the site.
The renewed cyber assaults by members of the informal hacker group “Anonymous” came after the disruption on Wednesday and Thursday of the payment systems for Visa and Mastercard, both of which recently declined to process donations to WikiLeaks.
Anonymous, recruited an army of volunteers to attack websites that have recently disassociated themselves from WikiLeaks in an action called “Operation Payback”.
By last night some 31,000 people had downloaded LOIC (Low Orbit Ion Cannon) software which is normally a network stress testing application allowing them to target their perceived opponents with DDoS attacks, a relatively simple way of slowing down or temporarily closing a website by flooding it with requests for information.
The software allows computers to join a botnet – a large collection of machines that use their combined power to target one website at a time with millions of “hits”.
Usually DDoS attacks are launched by computers hijacked by a virus or malicious code. But the Anonymous botnet, is a voluntary network.
Websites with good security and bandwidth like Amazon should be able to withstand all but the largest botnet attacks. But others, such as Sarah Palin’s sarahpac.com website, Paypal, PostFinance and the Swedish government’s homepage, were disrupted.
Knowingly taking part in a DDoS attack is illegal in the UK and could land users with a two year jail sentence, but it is believed that numerous Anonymous volunteers come from Britain.
However in a sign that this is a global struggle, a 16 year old was arrested last night in Holland on suspicion of helping to coordinate some of the DDoS attacks.
The renewed attacks came as WikiLeaks yesterday released its first public comments on Anonymous.
“We neither condemn nor applaud these attacks,” said WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson. “We believe they are a reflection of public opinion on the actions of the targets.”
Hours before, the UN’s top human rights official criticised websites that have refused to host WikiLeaks, suggesting it breached the platform’s right to freedom of expression.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told reporters in Geneva yesterday that the moves “could be interpreted as an attempt to censor the publication of information”.
Over the past 48 hours Anonymous has been able to call the shots on who to target.
But there have been some reprisal attacks on websites popular with hacktivist networks.
Those most likely to be behind such counter attacks are thought to be the kind of “freelance patriot” American hackers that first launched attacks on Wikileaks two weeks ago, sparking an online information war that has grown each day.
Facebook and Twitter tried yesterday to close down support pages for the Anonymous network, after reports emerged that anonymous accounts were being used to coordinate attacks.
Activists simply created new support sites under different names, forcing Facebook and Twitter to engage in what one blog described as an online “whack-a-mole” contest.
The Anonymous network then called on its activists to target Amazon, which last week kicked WikiLeaks on one of its website services.
The argument appeared to halt a concerted assault on Amazon but Anonymous scored a moral victory by spreading the word that the retailer was selling a downloadable version of the WikiLeaks State Department cables for its Kindle e-reader.