Nearly 4000 web activists have joined forces since last Wednesday to attack the web sites that withdrew support for Wikileaks and its director Julian Assange.
A cyberwar has been launched. The decision by several companies to block web site Wikileaks' financial means has elicited an unexpected response: thousands of web users have gathered under the banner of Anonymous, an open network promoting online freedom of expression, to organise Operation Payback. The goal, according to a member who calls himself Gen, is
To take down or disrupt the web sites of PostFinance, Paypal, Visa, Mastercard and Moneybooker in order to express our anger at their behaviour.
“Until the Swiss bank PostFinance decided to freeze Julian Assange's account, there only were fifty or so of us on this network, which was created in the spring, says Gen. Frankly, it was not so great, the atmosphere was not exciting. We traded software, talked about the fight for freedom of information, in particular our support for the leaders of the PirateBay network, who recently received a jail sentence. The Swiss bank's decision sent a shockwave. Supporters have multiplied and we now number nearly 4000.”
The BBC published an interview with Coldblood, who says to be a member of Anonymous, on Thursday. The 22-year-old software engineer discusses the cyber-attacks. Yet the Anonymous group promptly announced that it had no spokesperson named Coldblood. It was time for them to control communication about their activities. Silly explained:
We are not really an organisation, just a group where everyone has their say, even if five or six people decide on targets and manage the operation. We just gathered to fight those who infringe on freedom of expression by opposing Wikileaks.
None knows Julian Assange personally, nor have they meet with members of Wikileaks. But many media have started calling them hackers, given the success of their operations.
“We are not hackers, says Cosj. I have a blog, on which I talk about finance and banking in my country. But like 9 out of 10 of us, I am not a programmer. I just belong to Anonymous to contribute the power of my computer to help those who manage operations. Therefore I am above all a digital activist.”
How do they take down web sites? “It's just a matter of launching a DdoS (distributed denial of service) attack, flooding a site with traffic in order to disrupt service, explains Troll. Anyone can take part: either by visiting the targeted web site directly, asking for access, or else, more efficiently, by downloading part of the LOIC programme which will then be activated by one of the organisers to concentrate the flood of data being sent. LOIC is actually the acronym of Low Orbit Ion Cannon, the name of a weapon in a computer game.”
After Paypal, Amazon had become the subject of Anonymous' criticism. The retail site had indeed started selling access to the U.S. diplomatic cables, after deciding to drop support for Wikileaks. But Troll says:
Since the media relayed the news that we had decided to attack Amazon, we didn't even have to do it, since we had reached our goal: to publicise the dubious behaviour of the company. And without preventing people from doing their Christmas shopping.
While some Anonymous members connect and operate from their workplace, most do so from home, which is how the Dutch police arrested a 16-year-old boy on Thursday, for his alleged involvement in the operation against Paypal. Will this incident cool the other activists? “No, we can always say that a virus infected our computer and that it was used to send information, says one. Only those who activate the programme take risks, but they are aware of the danger…”