The two causes on their own were noteworthy, but had weaknesses that kept them docile. WikiLeaks had controversy and the attention of mainstream media, but lacked muscle to defend themselves from oppressors. Operation Payback, on the other hand, had plenty of eager hackers at their disposal and a passion to fight for their internet freedoms, but couldn’t quite capture enough of the spotlight to grow and support their cause. Together, WikiLeaks and Operation Payback now have both the fire and fuel that are combining to form what is turning into an all-out cyber-war like nothing the world has witnessed before.
WikiLeaks began public operations by unknown founders in January of 2007, and immediately dove into their whistle-blowing ways with a threat to publish 1.2 million confidential documents they claimed to have. Their mission was defined as a “primary interest in exposing oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we also expect to be of assistance to people of all regions who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations.”
Over the years, more government agencies and corporations have turned against WikiLeaks due to allegations of espionage, however much of the public didn’t seem to take notice of the politically dissonant site until the site began leaking US diplomatic cables in late November 2010, while site representative Julian Assange appeared to be attempting to dodge rape allegations. Major corporations like PayPal and MasterCard cut off financial streams to the site operations, while EveryDNS and Amazon cut ties to their servers. It began to look like the site would succumb to the opposition.
Operation Payback just began three months ago, when Indian software firm Aiplex was hired by the Motion Picture Association of America to help combat piracy by launching a series of DDoS attacks against BitTorrent sites, including The Pirate Bay. Anonymous, a group of hackers loosely affiliated with website 4Chan, launched their own DDoS attack on Aiplex and the MPAA in retaliation. After that, they made it their mission to strike the website of any organization or individual who dared to appear in the media speaking out against file sharing. Victims included the RIAA, US Copyright office, and several law firms who represent record labels and production companies in file-sharing lawsuits.
Then this week, Operation Payback decided that WikiLeaks “freedom of information” platform so closely resembled their own that they should begin to fight for that cause as well as their own. So far, Anonymous has launched DDoS attacks upon PayPal, MasterCard, and Assange’s Swiss bank. Meanwhile, Pirate Parties around the world have begun helping WikiLeaks stay online by hosting over 300 mirrors of the site on their servers. The site now has so much strength that analysts are saying that even if the site ends up shutting down in the future, “bits and pieces of its content will probably be mirrored forever,” on the Internet.
“While we don’t have much of an affiliation with WikiLeaks, we fight for the same reasons,” Anonymous said in a statement on its website. “We want transparency and we counter censorship. … This is why we intend to utilize our resources to raise awareness, attack those against and support those who are helping lead our world to freedom and democracy.”
The group is now conducting what they have dubbed “Operation Avenge Assange.” The operation consists of the following”
* Offer WikiLeaks an additional mirror and have it Googlebombed.
* Create counter-propaganda, organizing attacks (DDoS) on various targets related to censorship (time, date and target will be published by that time).
* Contact media entities, inform them that Operation:Payback has come out in support of Wikileaks, and has declared war on the entities involved in censoring there information; we will seek public support in a campaign against censorship.
* We will find and will attack those who stand against WikiLeaks and we will support WikiLeaks in everything they need.
But these types of attacks go both ways, and today it appears that there are a number of sites that have become casualties in this cyber-war. Operation Payback’s website, Anonops.net, appears to have been hijacked at the time this article was started, with the following message appearing on their homepage: “This Account Has Been Suspended for the following reason : Furfaggotary.”. Now, the website displays a generic default page with the text “If you feel you have reached this page in error, please contact the web site owner”.
Today, Sarah Palin became the latest target of Operation Avenge Assange as Anonymous hackers out of London disrupted her website and have even reportedly compromised her personal credit card accounts after she referred to Assange as “an anti-American operative with blood on his hands.”
Anonymous also targeted and successfully brought down the websites for Mastercard and Visa today using their infamous DDoS attacks.
And this is only the beginning. With the realization from WikiLeak’s published US Cables that China had ordered cyber-attacks on Google, there is no telling how many corporations and government entities could end up getting involved in this mess before it ends.
Cyberwarfare is defined by government security expert Richard A. Clarke, in his book Cyber War, as “actions by a nation-state to penetrate another nation’s computers or networks for the purposes of causing damage or disruption.” It is quite clear that we have reached that state.