x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Hackers hit MasterCard and Visa in support of WikiLeaks

Hackers have rushed to the defence of WikiLeaks, launching attacks on MasterCard, Visa, Swedish prosecutors, a Swiss bank, Sarah Palin and others who have acted against the site and its jailed founder Julian Assange.

LONDON // Hackers have rushed to the defence of WikiLeaks, launching attacks on MasterCard, Visa, Swedish prosecutors, a Swiss bank, Sarah Palin and others who have acted against the site and its jailed founder Julian Assange.

Internet "hacktivists" operating under the label "Operation Payback" claimed responsibility in a Twitter message for causing severe technological problems at the website for MasterCard, which pulled the plug on its relationship with WikiLeaks a day ago.

MasterCard acknowledged "a service disruption" involving its Secure Code system for verifying online payments, but spokesman James Issokson said consumers could still use their credit cards for secure transactions. Later yesterday, Visa's website was inaccessible.

The online attacks are part of a wave of support for WikiLeaks that is sweeping the Internet. Twitter was choked with messages of solidarity for the group, while the site's Facebook page hit 1 million fans.

Late yesterday, Operation Payback itself appeared to run into problems, as many of its sites went down. It was unclear who was behind the counterattack.

MasterCard is the latest in a string of US-based Internet companies - including Visa, Amazon.com, PayPal Inc. and EveryDNS - to cut ties to WikiLeaks in recent days amid intense US government pressure. PayPal was not having problems yesterday but the company said it faced "a dedicated denial-of-service attack" on Monday.

Meanwhile, a website tied to former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin came under cyberattack, she said. In a posting on the social networking site Facebook last week, Palin called Assange "an anti-American operative with blood on his hands." An aide said staff moved quickly to secure the website and no data was compromised.

WikiLeaks' extensive releases of secret US diplomatic cables have embarrassed US allies, angered rivals, and reopened old wounds across the world. US officials in Washington say other countries have curtailed their dealings with the US government because of WikiLeaks' actions.

PayPal Vice President Osama Bedier said the company froze WikiLeaks' account after seeing a letter from the US State Department to WikiLeaks saying that the group's activities "were deemed illegal in the United States."

Offline, WikiLeaks was under pressure on many fronts. Assange is in a British prison fighting extradition to Sweden over a sex crimes case. Recent moves by Swiss Postfinance, MasterCard, PayPal and others that cut the flow of donations to the group have impaired its ability to raise money.

Neither WikiLeaks nor Assange has been charged with any offence in the US, but the US government is investigating whether Assange can be prosecuted for espionage or other offences. Assange has not been charged with any offences in Sweden either, but authorities there want to question him about the allegations of sex crimes.

The pro-WikiLeaks vengeance campaign yesterday appeared to be taking the form of denial-of-service attacks in which computers are harnessed - sometimes surreptitiously - to jam target sites with mountains of requests for data, knocking them out of commission.

Per Hellqvist, a security specialist with the firm Symantec, said a network of web activists called Anonymous - to which Operation Payback is affiliated - appeared to be behind many of the attacks. The group, which has previously focused on the Church of Scientology and the music industry, is knocking offline websites seen as hostile to WikiLeaks.

"While we don't have much of an affiliation with WikiLeaks, we fight for the same reasons," the group said in a statement. "We want transparency and we counter censorship ... we intend to utilize our resources to raise awareness, attack those against and support those who are helping lead our world to freedom and democracy."

WikiLeaks' payment processor says it is preparing to sue credit card companies Visa and MasterCard over their refusal to process donations to the secret-spilling website.

The statement by Iceland's DataCell ehf comes as Internet payment company PayPal says it will return the funds frozen in WikiLeaks' account to the foundation that was fundraising for it.

It isn't yet clear where or when such a lawsuit would be heard. DataCell CEO Andreas Fink told The Associated Press that he would seek to have his case heard in a court in London, where Visa Europe Ltd. is based.

Fink said in an e-mail that "it is simply ridiculous to think WikiLeaks has done anything criminal." Visa and MasterCard have not immediately returned e-mails seeking comment.