The Wall Street Journal World, December 8, 2010
A growing number of companies, prosecutors and banks that have tangled with controversial website WikiLeaks and its detained founder, Julian Assange, have suffered online attacks, apparently from hackers bent on extracting revenge for the document-leaking organization.
The attacks expanded on Wednesday, a day after Mr. Assange was arrested and denied bail in London in connection with sexual misconduct accusations in Sweden. In the wake of that, a wide range of organizations—from Master Card to a Swedish prosecutors’ office—reported technical difficulties with their websites that appear to stem from denial of service attacks, where computers flood a server to prevent it from displaying a webpage.
The attacks appeared aimed at companies or financial institutions that withdrew Internet-support or other services from WikiLeaks, and entities connected to the accusations against Mr. Assange.
Among them were MasterCard, which pulled services from WikiLeaks in recent days and PostFinance, a Swiss bank that closed Mr. Assange’s account recently because he allegedly provided a false address.
The Swedish Prosecution Service also said its website had been overloaded because of a denial of service attack. The prosecutors’ office said it reported the incident to Swedish police. The website for Claes Borgstrom, the lawyer representing the two women making the accusations against Mr. Assange, also crashed.
By around mid-morning European time Wednesday, MasterCard was suffering from attacks to its consumer website, slowing its functioning. Around the same time, several Twitter posts appeared crowing that the credit-card company’s site was suffering.
“http://www.mastercard.com/ is DOWN! #ddos #wikileaks Operation:Payback,” said one post under the name “Anon_Operation,” whose Twitter page is identified as part of Operation Payback, a campaign against “anti-piracy & anti-freedom entities.”
MasterCard, in a statement Wednesday, said its consumer website was “experiencing heavy traffic,” but that it was working to restore normal service and its credit-card processing services weren’t affected. There is “no impact whatsoever on our cardholders’ ability to use their cards for secure transactions,” the Purchase, N.Y.-based company said.
On Monday, MasterCard had said it was working to suspend payments to WikiLeaks “until the situation is resolved.”
In an interview with Jerry Seib, former U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley lashed out at Wikileaks for damaging U.S. diplomacy with its recent document dump. He also praised the Obama administration’s handling of Iran and North Korea.
According to a description of the allegations read in a London courtroom on Tuesday, Swedish authorities said one of the women alleges that Mr. Assange forcibly held her arms and legs, preventing her from moving, and had sexual intercourse with her without using a condom despite knowing it was a prerequisite for her. The other woman alleges that Mr. Assange had sex with her while she was asleep, again failing to wear a condom despite knowing she required it. Mr. Assange has denied the accusations and he isn’t charged in either case.
Mr. Assange’s personal legal problems come against the backdrop of its showdown with the U.S. government over WikiLeaks’ release of thousands of classified documents. The U.S. considers the documents “stolen,” though no charges have been filed against WikiLeaks or Mr. Assange. But the situation has caused additional fallout for WikiLeaks, as an array of service providers—including MasterCard, eBay Inc.’s PayPal and Amazon.com Inc.—terminated their relationships with WikiLeaks.
That is now causing problems for the likes of Switzerland’s PostFinance, which on Monday said it closed Mr. Assange’s account because he falsely claimed he lived in Geneva. Attacks on its website began about three hours later and continued for about twenty-four hours, making it difficult to access.
PostFinance spokesman Alex Josty said on Wednesday that the website was operating more normally, which he believed to be a combination of the attacks subsiding and defensive measures the company had put in place. PostFinance, which is a unit of logistics and mail company Swiss Post, which is based in Bern, Switzerland, said the security of its customer data hadn’t been affected.
Spokespeople for PayPal and Amazon couldn’t immediately be reached.