Concerted hacking efforts by so-called “cyberanarchists” (according to the New York Times) were launched against several big business web sites that provide the basic infrastructure for online marketing and sales. Co-ordinated “cyberattacks” were made on Mastercard, PayPal and Amazon.com, who cut off services to Wikileaks following the widespread dissemination of hither-to top secret U.S. military and diplomatic communications through Wikileaks, and the recent arrest in Britain of its founder, Julian Assange, to face extradition for “questioning” on sex charges in Sweden.
“Hactivists” (again, the Times’ description), ramped up efforts to keep an ‘Open Internet’ to the level of what was called “cyberwarfare” by flooding the websites of MasterCharge, and PayPal, who stopped accepting donations to Wikileaks, as well as Amazon.com, who booted Wikileaks from its servers, with thousands and thousands of “denial of service” messages.
The New York Times, who along with four other publications has published details of the controversial Wikileak documents, reports that, “(t)he sense of an Internet war was reinforced [on December 8] when netcraft, a British Internet monitoring firm, reported that the Web site being used by the hackers to distribute denial-of-service software had been suspended by a Dutch hosting firm, Leaseweb.” On December 9, Dutch police announced the arrest of a 16 year-old who “confessed to taking part in the cyber attack on MasterCard.”
“Denial of service” attacks were also made on Visa.com as well as “the Swedish prosecutor’s office and the lawyer representing the two women whose allegations of sexual misconduct are the basis of Sweden’s extradition bid,” according to the Times.
Although Mr. Assange’s arrest for possible extradition to Sweden, and what some fear are “trumped up charges” in Sweden, are not related to the online publication of the classified documents on Wikileaks, they nonetheless provoked the wrath of Open Internet hackers.
Mr. Assange’s arrest for extradition to Sweden is also likely to be the first step in his eventual extradition to the United States where he will most probably face charges for publishing state secrets. Indeed, Amazon.com cited a breach of its terms and conditions of use by engaging in what they deemed “illegal activities” as the basis for revoking Wikileak’s use of its servers. MasterCard and PayPal did not comment on their withdrawal of services to Wikileaks.
The “cyberattacks” that garnered front page headlines on newspapers around the globe, as well as torrid debate around the web, demonstrate the underlying fragility of the infrastructure sites that facilitate online marketing and sales. Indeed, it may be a precedent for further ‘cyber-protest’, not only against what was perceived as a blow against freedom of information on the Web and net neutrality, but for any number of social grievances targeted by a ‘digital technorati’ that seems prepared to challenge not only national governments, but the technological financial institutions that facilitate the operation of business online.
The public relations lesson that online and offline businesses can draw from this highly publicized cyberattack and the ongoing Wikileaks controversy is quite clear: “Don’t tick off the technorati!”
James Barry covers online marketing and related topics for Wolf21.com, a Toronto-based firm offering a full line of SEO services.