Operation Payback: Who Are the WikiLeaks ‘Hactivists’?

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Operation Avenge Assange

It appears that Operation Payback has spawned a new initiative known as Operation Avenge Assange. A recently-created flyer from the group says that WikiLeaks founder “Julian Assange deifies everything we hold dear” and urges people to “spread the current leaked cables” and even to “upvote” Assange on TIME’s 2010 Person of the Year list.

The flyer also indicates that distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks will be planned and, indeed, several have already been carried out against companies such as Paypal, Visa and MasterCard.

A spokesperson for the group told The Guardian the following:

“We’re against corporations and government interfering on the internet. We believe it should be open and free for everyone. Governments shouldn’t try to censor because they don’t agree with it.

“Anonymous is supporting WikiLeaks not because we agree or disagree with the data that is being sent out, but we disagree with any from of censorship on the internet. If we let WikiLeaks fall without a fight then governments will think they can just take down any sites they wish or disagree with.”

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks

The methods used by groups like Anonymous to take down its target websites vary in scope, but many fall under the umbrella of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. DDoS attacks are generally automated, highly-repetitive requests by a large number of individual computers for access to certain files or pages on a target website to the point that the servers running the website get overloaded and either slow to a crawl or shut down.

Supporters of Anonymous’ initiatives use software known as the Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC) that’s generally used by network administrators to stress test their networks. However, Anonymous uses a modified version of the software that lets users target a specific website en masse and basically stress test it repeatedly until it stops functioning.

Recent Attacks

Recent attacks against websites under the guise of Operation Avenge Assange have been as follows:

Monday 12/6

PostFinance: Swiss bank accused of freezing WikiLeaks assets

Tuesday 12/7

Swedish Prosecution Authority: Issued warrant for Assange’s arrest in London

EveryDNS: Handled the routing of traffic to WikiLeaks.org website but stopped providing service after being overloaded with traffic and DDoS attacks against WikiLeaks

Wednesday 12/8

Joe Lieberman: Attempted to stop WikiLeaks from releasing recent diplomatic cables

MasterCard: Stopped WikiLeaks payment processing services

Borgstrom and Borstrom: Swedish law firm representing the two women who have accused Assange of inappropriate sexual contact

Visa: Stopped WikiLeaks payment processing services

Sarah Palin: Referred to Assange as “an anti-American operative with blood on his hands.”

Thursday 12/9

Paypal: Stopped WikiLeaks payment processing services and froze WikiLeaks assets (assets have since been released)

Amazon.com: Removed WikiLeaks documents from its servers but is sellingĀ a Kindle e-book that summarizes the recently-leaked diplomatic cables (the attack has been postponed, according to CNN)

More on TIME.com:

Most Memorable Hacking Moments

Facebook Won’t Block WikiLeaks Just Yet

WikiLeaks Domain Name Killed (and Why It Won’t Kill WikiLeaks)

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