(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
LONDON — Hackers rushed to the defense of WikiLeaks on Wednesday, launching attacks on MasterCard, Swedish prosecutors, a Swiss bank and others who have acted against the site and its jailed founder Julian Assange.
Internet "hacktivists" operating under the label "Operation Payback" claimed responsibility in a Twitter message for causing severe technological problems at the website for MasterCard, which pulled the plug on its relationship with WikiLeaks a day ago.
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MasterCard acknowledged "a service disruption" involving its Secure Code system for verifying online payments. It was not clear how widespread the problem was. Earlier, MasterCard spokesman James Issokson said consumers could still use their credit cards for secure transactions.
The online attacks are part of a wave of support for WikiLeaks that is sweeping the Internet. Twitter was choked with messages of solidarity for the group, while the site's Facebook page hit 1 million fans.
MasterCard is the latest in a string of US-based Internet companies — including Visa, Amazon.com, PayPal Inc. and EveryDNS — to cut ties to WikiLeaks in recent days amid intense US government pressure.
Visa said it was having no problems Wednesday. PayPal said it faced "a dedicated denial-of-service attack" Monday but had no problems with its website Wednesday.
PayPal Vice President Osama Bedier said the company froze WikiLeaks' account after seeing a letter from the US State Department to WikiLeaks saying that its activities "were deemed illegal in the United States."
"It's honestly just pretty straightforward from our perspective," he told a web conference in Paris.
Undeterred, WikiLeaks released more confidential US cables Wednesday. One cable revealed that American officials lobbied the Russian government to amend a financial bill the US felt would "disadvantage US payment card market leaders Visa and MasterCard."
The pro-WikiLeaks vengeance campaign appeared to be taking the form of
denial-of-service attacks in which computers are harnessed — sometimes
surreptitiously — to jam target sites with mountains of requests for
data, knocking them out of commission. xPer Hellqvist, a security
specialist with the firm Symantec, said a network of web activists
called Anonymous — to which Operation Payback is affiliated — appeared
to be behind many of the attacks. The group, which has previously
focused on the Church of Scientology and the music industry, is knocking
offline websites seen as hostile to WikiLeaks.
"While we don't
have much of an affiliation with WikiLeaks, we fight for the same
reasons," the group said in a statement. "We want transparency and we
counter censorship ... 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."