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Visa and MasterCard were the first victims for Operation Payback, fighting for WikiLeaks
In retaliation for suspending payments made to whistleblower WikiLeaks’ account, Operation Payback directed three successive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on Visa, MasterCard and PayPal on Wednesday, in that order.
The three companies made their decision to bar payments to WikiLeaks this week, in the wake of founder Julian Assange’s arrest, stating that the organization might be breaking U.S. law by publicly sharing sensitive diplomatic documents. Visa specifically said the suspension would stay in effect pending an investigation.
Because WikiLeaks is a nonprofit organization entirely reliant on funding from outside sources, losing the ability to receive donations could be crippling.
Anonymous, the loosely organized group generally understood as the one behind Operation Payback, posted the following message yesterday on its website, which has had its own trouble staying online:
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.
Though the Visa and MasterCard sites each recovered from the DDoS attacks around the time Anonymous made PayPal its next target, the attacks reached their climax when the Operation’s Twitter account (formerly @Anon_Operation) posted a link to what it claimed were the compromised account numbers and expiration dates for tens of thousands of MasterCard customers. Despite repeated assurances from MasterCard that no sensitive personal data had been leaked, Twitter reacted to the tweet by suspending the account.
Within no time at all, the Operation was back on Twitter under a new account name, @op_payback. Attacks continued to be orchestrated at PayPal's expense from this account into the night.
Meanwhile, Facebook repeatedly deleted new Operation Payback pages on its site.
Though Anonymous is supposed to be, well, anonymous, the elusive collective is generally associated with a community site called 4Chan.
4Chan, with 8.2 million monthly unique visitors and 600 million monthly page loads, is the the largest active forum in the United States, according to Christopher Poole, the board’s creator who goes by the handle “Moot.” He says people spend an average of 19 minutes on the site and look at 30 page each. Every day, 800,000 new posts are added.
As you can see in the screenshot above, a post doesn’t amount to much. Most users elect to stay “Anonymous” instead of sharing actual names, a timestamp appears next to each post and users usually post very little text, with comical or offensive images often accompanying the post.
In the first post in the screenshot, the anonymous user informs other readers on the site how to join the DDoS attack with rudimentary measures on a PC, without downloading “loic.” Short for Low Orbit Ion Cannon, LOIC is a freely available application whose express object seems to be as a weapon used in taking down websites via a deluge of server requests.
I sacrificed a little bit of my sanity to wander a bit around 4Chan, which isn’t particularly known for its tact, and found that, for the most part, support seems to be behind the DDoS attacks. If not for the issue of freedom of speech and the WikiLeaks, then just for the fun of taking down major corporations’ websites. One user congratulated the board for being referenced on MSNBC. At the same time, there were some users who complained that whole affair was short-sighted and bad publicity for the board.
The real question is how this will affect WikiLeaks. Do the Web attacks lend support to the organization or detract from its legitimacy?
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