Hacker Group Defends Attacks on WikiLeaks Foes

Anonymous, a loosely affiliated group of Internet vigilantes that has claimed responsibility for a series of Internet attacks against organizations perceived as hostile to WikiLeaks, today sought to cast itself as more focused on symbolic protest than outright disruption.

The group's claims come amid reports that online payment site Moneybookers was taken off line by a distributed denial of service attack launched by Anonymous members.

In a statement released today, organizers of Anonymous contended that it is not a group of hackers, but a 'gathering' of average Internet citizens.

"We do not want to steal your personal information or credit card numbers. We also do not seek to attack critical infrastructure of companies such as Mastercard, Visa, PayPal or Amazon," the statement said.

Rather, it added, the focus has been on attacking corporate websites, or the online 'public face'" of companies seen as anti-WikiLeaks, the statement said. "It is a symbolic action" designed to draw to raise awareness of "underhanded methods" employed by specific companies in their dealings with WikiLeaks, the statement said.

According to the release, some Anonymous members yesterday disclosed on the Twitter social network their plans to attack Amazon.com because the online retailer decided to sell an e-book consisting of classified U.S. State Department cables leaked by WikiLeaks over the last couple of weeks. Amazon.com had earlier thrown WikiLeaks off its cloud servers for posting the leaked state department cables.

After reports that the attack on Amazon.com had apparently failed, Anonymous claimed it had never been launched. "Simply put, attacking a major online retailer when people are buying presents for their loved ones, would be in bad taste," the statement said.

In the statement, Anonymous also acknowledged that it might have lacked he power to to take down a well-heeled site like Amazon.com.

The group's attempt to explain itself comes after a series of Anonymous-led DDoS attacks that slowed or stalled the corporate sites of MasterCard, Visa, PayPal, Swiss payment transaction firm PostFinance and EveryDNS.

In each case, the companies were targeted because they terminated services to WikiLeaks soon after the whistleblower Web site began releasing classified state department cables earlier this month.

Other sites that were similarly targeted included those belonging to Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn), former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, the Swedish prosecutors that are pursuing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on sexual assault charges, and the lawyer representing the two women who have pressed charges against Assange.

The Anonymous statement also comes amid signs that support for the group's actions appear to be snowballing .

WikiLeaks itself has been cautious in its response to Anonymous and the attacks. In a statement this morning, WikiLeaks said it neither supports nor condemns the cyberattacks launched on its behalf. WikiLeaks added that there has been no contact between the whistleblower website and the Anonymous group.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan , or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com .

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