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We Seem to Be Having a Bit of a Cyber War

Vigilantes acting in support of WikiLeaks unleashed a torrent of punishing denial of service attacks

Even before WikiLeaks mastermind Julian Assange got hauled off to Wandsworth Prison in southwest London Tuesday, vigilantes acting in support of WikiLeaks unleashed a torrent of punishing denial of service attacks on MasterCard and the Swiss Post bank PostFinance, bringing down both of their web sites.

PostFinance, which confirmed the attacks, was down most of Tuesday and mastercard.com was still impossible to reach Wednesday.

Self-styled "hacktivists" who call themselves 4Chan and another called Anonymous, usually associated with attacking RIAA for its anti-piracy moves, have banded together in Operation Payback, ostensibly in revenge for MasterCard and PostFinance cutting off WikiLeaks donations.

PayPal, which pulled WikiLeaks' account last Friday, has reportedly been hit too but seems to be bearing up other than some difficulties with its blog.

The web site of the Swedish prosecutor's office, which is pressing the sex crimes case against Assange, was down Tuesday into Wednesday and then the web site and e-mail system of the law firm for the two Swedish women who brought the complaint were attacked.

Visa and Twitter are expected to be hit, Visa for refusing to handle any more payments to WikiLeaks, Twitter for not paying it enough attention to it and supposedly censoring the #wikileaks hashtag.

In retaliation Anonymous was hit and WikiLeaks itself has of course been under sporadic DDoS attacks since it started releasing stolen US embassy cables.

Since losing its wikileaks.org domain to DDoS attacks last week, WikiLeaks now has reportedly hundreds of mirror sites, DNS servers in multiple countries and thousands of encrypted copies of the 250,000 purloined embassy cables and documents shared with the wild using peer-to-peer networks as an insurance policy in case something bad happens to it.

In an interview WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson reportedly told ABC News that Assange's arrest "is not derailing us in any way. This is a turning tide and starting a trend that you can't really stop unless you want to shut down the Internet."

On a more conventional note Datacell, the Iceland-based company that has been handling Visa and MasterCard contributions to WikiLeaks for the last two months - until it got suspension notices late Tuesday - is fulminating on its web site about censorship, defending WikiLeaks' legitimacy and threatening to sue Visa, claiming "If large companies such as Visa or Mastercard, who hold the duopoly of the credit card transactions worldwide, think they have to put priority on political influence over the law, they have to be ready to take damage claims in the billions of Euro's and they have to be ready to loose a big chunk of their business. This might be very well the end of the credit card business worldwide."

On Wednesday Datacell CEO Andreas Fink recounted slightly more calmly that "Since yesterday around 22:30 CET Visa and Mastercard payments are being rejected on our donation system. We have received a suspension notice stating that Visa Europe has ordered our payment processor to suspend payments and undertake due diligence investigation in order to pretect [sic] the Visa brand ensure neither the payment processor nor Visa Europe is running legal risks by facilitating payments for the funding of the Wikileaks website. For the same reasons the payment processor has suspended the payments of Mastercard.

"The suspension period will be one week with effect from 8 December 2010 Danish local time. The suspension period may be prolonged.

"DataCell ehf who facilitates those payments towards Wikileaks has decided to take up immediate legal actions to make donations possible again. We can not believe Wikileaks would even create scratch at the brand name of Visa. The suspension of payments towards Wikileaks is a violation of the agreements with their customers. Visa users have explicitly expressed their will to send their donations to Wikileaks and Visa is not fulfilling this wish. It will probably hurt their brand much much more to block payments towards Wikileaks than to have them occur. Visa customers are contacting us in masses to confirm that they really donate and they are not happy about Visa rejecting them. It is obvious that Visa is under political pressure to close us down...."

"Visa is hurting Wikileaks and DataCell ehf in high figures. Putting all payments on hold for 7 days or more is one thing but rejecting all further attempts to donate is making the donations impossible. This does clearly create massive financial losses to Wikileaks which seems to be the only purpose of this suspension. This is not about the brand of Visa, this is about politics and Visa should not be involved in this."

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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