Mastercard’s website became the latest casualty in the showdown between WikiLeaks and the U.S. government, as supporters of WikiLeaks’ release of secret U.S. diplomatic cables flooded the credit card company’s website Wednesday morning with a deluge of traffic. The attack is revenge for the company’s decision to cut off cardholders’ ability to donate to the whistleblowing website.
Mastercard’s payment infrastructure, which isn’t publicly accessible on the web, would not be affected by the denial of service attack, which was launched by an ever-shifting group that goes by the name Anonymous. The group already attacked (and took down for several hours) a Swiss bank that froze an account belonging to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Anonymous is also aiming at PayPal.com, an attack which could, if successful, block financial transactions, but so far that site remains up.
Mastercard, Visa and PayPal have all cut off WikiLeaks in the past week, citing violations of their “terms of service” agreements, but no such action has been taken against The New York Times and other publications that are reprinting and reporting on the cables.
The U.S. State Department has called the ongoing publication of the 250,000 diplomatic cables “illegal,” but no charges have been filed against the site. Publishing government documents, even classified ones, is not explicitly illegal in the United States as it is in England.
An Anonymous member/sympathizer wrote to Wired.com to announce the attacks, passing along this statement from the chat channel being used to organize the attack:
We are the clear logic used to unveil wrongdoing. The general public, clouded by misleading information mostly by the media with a political agenda, fails to see and understand this wrongdoing. Because of this, those who do the wrongdoing escape unpunished. Anonymous is here to ensure punishment does not go unserved to those who deserve it.
WikiLeaks itself has suffered from denial of service attacks since last Sunday, including one from a “patriotic” hacker. That’s when the site began publishing cables provided to the site by Pfc. Bradley Manning (according to chat logs seen by Wired.com), who had access to them as part of his work as an intelligence analyst in Iraq. Manning is in jail in Quantico, awaiting trial.
Assange is also now in custody in London related to sex-crimes charges in Sweden, which has the organization scrambling to operate. Assange is likely to fight extradition.
Anonymous, which has its roots in the uncensored crook of the 4chan message boards, has a history of such attacks, including a recent campaign against the record industry for attacking file sharing sites, mass infiltrating an online game for kids to protest its stupidity and a long-running, earlier campaign against the Church of Scientology.
The Scientology attacks were investigated by the FBI and at least one Anonymous member was jailed for his part in clogging Scientology’s websites.
Few who are part of Anonymous are actual “hackers,” and instead join in the attacks by running specialized software provided by more technically adept members. Instruction for what sites to target and when are passed around online chat channels and websites, creating a sort of online insurgency.
Photo credit: Steve Rhode