Latest on the Wikileaks 'information war'

Updated: Amazon targeted ... More botnet-driven DoS attacks, PayPal, Visa/Mastercard actions

The founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, may be cooling his heels in a British jail cell, but that's done nothing to stem the war of words - and actions - over his organization and its influence on world affairs.

(Update below: Amazon targeted.)

Last night Paypal joined MasterCard and Visa on the list of companies being targeted with denial of service attacks by Wikileaks sympathizers who object to those companies having withdrawn their services from the controversial whistleblower site. From an IDG News Service story on our site:

The activists have recruited volunteers, who have banded their computers into a distributed denial of service (DDoS) botnet, but they are also using hacked machines to carry out these attacks, said Sean-Paul Correll of threat researcher Panda Security. "Today we observed over 3,000 computers in the voluntary botnet, but we also have knowledge of a 30k node botnet," he said.

PayPal was hit late Wednesday afternoon, Pacific time, and the Paypal.com address was unresponsive into early Thursday morning. "There have been attempted DDoS attacks on paypal.com this week," said company spokesman Anuj Nayar. "The attacks slowed the website itself down for a short while, but did not significantly impact payments."

Paypal's homepage was accessible moments ago, although efforts to reach the company's blog at first proved unsuccessful, then required several minutes before the page would load. Access to the homepages of Visa and Mastercard appeared normal.

This message is posted on the MasterCard homepage:

MasterCard has made significant progress in restoring full-service to its corporate website. Our core processing capabilities have not been compromised and cardholder account data has not been placed at risk. While we have seen limited interruption in some web-based services, cardholders can continue to use their cards for secure transactions globally.

Meanwhile, DataCell, the Icelandic hosting company that had been processing donations to Wikileaks through Visa and MasterCard until the credit card firms shut off the spigot, posted its own message of protest and promise of legal action:

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 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.

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.

Back in the United States, Twitter, which has yet to issue any public statement regarding the near-term fate of Wikileaks' Twitter account, did take to its own blog to address rumors and media reports suggesting that Twitter was filtering Wikileaks-related hashtags from its high-profile "trending" list. From that post:

Since Twitter first introduced the Trends feature in the summer of 2008, one frequently asked question has been "Why isn't X trending?" This question has come up around a variety of subjects, from #justinbieber and #adamlambert to #flotilla, #iranelection and #demo2010.

This week, people are wondering about WikiLeaks, with some asking if Twitter has blocked #wikileaks, #cablegate or other related topics from appearing in the list of top Trends.

The answer: Absolutely not. In fact, some of these terms, including #wikileaks and #cablegate, have previously trended either worldwide or in specific locations.

The post goes on to give Twitter's explanation of how "trending" works.

Speaking of Twitter, I have yet to hear back from the Massachusetts-based startup whose TweetBackup service stands as the one and only Twitter account being followed by Wikileaks (following TweetBackup's account is a condition of using the service).

Small companies have proven susceptible to collateral damage in this conflict, witness what happened to Toronto-based EasyDNS. From a Globe and Mail report:

Mark Jeftovic didn't know his company had somehow managed to kick WikiLeaks off the Internet until he read it on a blog one morning while eating breakfast. And he never would have guessed he would then find himself working with the controversial website, which is under fire for publishing classified government documents on the Internet. The strange turn of events all began with a blogger's typo. ...

It all started for Mr. Jeftovic with a blogger writing last week about the decision of a competitor named EveryDNS to stop working with WikiLeaks because it had attracted attacks from hackers. But a small typo turned that into "EasyDNS," leading to strange days for Mr. Jeftovic. Within hours of the erroneous report, the mistake had been repeated hundreds of times and mainstream news organizations were repeating it as fact. Soon, his company was getting blasted on the Web for giving WikiLeaks the boot.

Everyone has an opinion on this one, of course. Here are a couple I found worthwhile this morning:

A Reuters report on Time:  "Why WikiLeaks Is Winning Its Info War:"

The asymmetrical info war initiated by the WikiLeaks dump of diplomatic cables is all about spectacle - the more Assange is set up by world powers, the more powerful his own movement becomes. "The field of battle is WikiLeaks," wrote John Perry Barlow, a former Grateful Dead lyricist and founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the First Amendment advocacy group, in a message to his followers. "You are the troops." WikiLeaks admiringly forwarded the post to 300,000 of its own followers. As the U.S. and other governments attempted to close down WikiLeaks over the past week, those "troops" have fought back. And so far, it doesn't look like much of a contest.

And Robert X. Cringely writes in a post headlined, "The Web will eat itself over WikiLeaks:"

"... this is the single most important story to hit the Internet ever. It dwarfs the Drudge Report's Monica Lewinsky scoop, the Twitter anti-Tehran uprising, and even the Pam Anderson sex video. Never before has a small band of whatever-you-want-to-call-thems taken on every major nation simultaneously, twisting them into knots. But thanks to the distributed nature of the Net, they have -- and I suspect they won't be the last."

Count on it.

(Update, 10:55 a.m.: Wikileaks supporters are reportedly pushing for and enabling an attack within moments against Amazon.com, which recently booted Wikileaks from its Amazon Web Services. CNN reports: "Computer hackers who support WikiLeaks plan to attack Amazon.com Thursday, they announced on Twitter. They released a do-it-yourself hacking tool online Thursday so other people can help with the attacks they say took down the websites of MasterCard and Visa. The attack is due to start at about 11 a.m. ET. So far, the site appears to be operating normally." ... If consequential, this action may raise the heat on Twitter.)

(Update, 11:05: Amazon site still up ... And look what you can buy there.)

(Update 11:25: Amazon still unshaken, according to my Web browser and this report. Of course, never having launched one myself, I do not know how long it takes to execute a denial of service attack.)

(Update, 12:20: Amazon not only still up, but the site truly screams; the entire Internet should be so fast.)

(Update, Dec. 10: Why Whack-a-Mole won't work against the likes of Wikileaks.)

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