by Mike Ludwig
09 December 2010
Web pirates are waging cyberwarfare in defense
of WikiLeaks, and I had a rare glimpse into the hacktivists' hidden world of
Internet sabotage in a secret chat room as the faceless hackers orchestrated
the attack that temporarily shut down www.Visa.com on Wednesday evening.
Hidden behind screen names like Power2All and Bizzaro, hacktivists involved
Operation Payback campaign logged into a
temporary and remote Internet relay chat (IRC) room to share information on
the ongoing Visa attack, swap web addresses, tell jokes and give updates on
the international media coverage of their cyberwar against the enemies of
WikiLeaks and free information.
An anti-authoritarian organization - if you can call it organized - called
Anonymous launched Operation Payback revenge attacks against Mastercard,
Visa and PayPal after the companies began blocking donations to WikiLeaks in
light of the recent release of thousands of US diplomatic cables.
Amid pornographic images and nasty jokes, I found a link to the Operation
Payback IRC on a thread at 4Chan.org, an open source image posting site.
Anonymous and its supporters sometimes post announcements and flashy
anti-copyright propaganda on 4Chan.org despite complaints from regular
users, who seem more interested in naked woman and bathroom humor.
Earlier this week, Anonymous activists temporarily shut down the web sites
of a server that dropped the WikiLeaks domain name and a Swiss bank that
froze the defense fund for WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange. Anonymous is not
affiliated with WikiLeaks.
The Anonymous hacktivists used DDoS attacks, a popular hacking technique
that floods web site servers with too many requests, to temporarily shut
down the sites.
Mastercard.com went down early Wednesday morning, and by mid-afternoon chat
rooms frequented by hackers were buzzing with plans to take down Visa. A
now-defunct Operation Payback Twitter feed soon called for an attack
on the Visa web site, and by 5:00 p.m. EST the web site went down.
Here's a tweet that called for the attack:
TARGET: WWW.VISA.COM :: FIRE FIRE FIRE!!!
http://bit.ly/e6iR3X ::: SET YOUR LOIC TO irc.anonops.net ::: #DDOS
As the hacktivists attacked Visa, their IRC
conversations revealed the chaotic and decentralized nature of Anonymous.
Updates on the status of the Visa web site came
in from Germany, Korea, the Netherlands and the US. Some users issued orders
and codes laced in hacker jargon, and some users seemed confused and in need
of direction to a central attack point called "the HIVE."
Others simply made it clear that there is no room for leaders in
At one point it was announced that Twitter and Facebook had taken down
Operation Payback's profiles, and arguments erupted over whether those sites
should become the next targets. The Operation Payback
Twitter account was soon replaced, and one
tweet claimed the original account was taken down by mistake.
Users also discussed the validity of
online rumors claiming thousands of
Mastercard numbers had been released on Twitter and other public sites.
In a statement, Mastercard representatives said that, although the company's
main site had been shut down for some time, no personal or security
information had been compromised.
One hacker in the chat room wondered if any FBI "spooks" were snooping in on
the IRC, and another proclaimed that it was a sure thing. Soon after a new
chat room was established to discuss future plans and tactics, the IRC was
shut down and a Tweet went out indicating the conversation had been moved to
a safer location.
A spokesperson for the FBI told Truthout that is was unclear if the FBI was
investigating Operation Payback, and the FBI normally does not confirm the
existence of current investigations.
The Anonymous Operation Payback campaign has succeeding several times since
September in temporarily shutting down a handful of web sites of companies,
lobbying firms and organizations promoting tougher internet copyright rules.
Anonymous computer wiz kids and their anti-authoritarian supporters release
YouTube videos (below) as communiqués on the liberation of all online
information - documents, files, movies, music - basically anything of
interest to pirates and the public.
In various online manifestos, Anonymous argues that access to any and all
information online is a basic human right and should not be controlled by
the government and big corporations.
Anonymous propaganda often depicts a headless man in a suit or activists
wearing the mask worn by the anti-government hero in the movie "V
for Vendetta," and the group has declared war against "corrupt
governments of the world" and anyone who tries to censor and copyright
Operation Payback's confrontation tactics recently drew criticism from more
moderate reformists in the Internet piracy movement.
The Pirate Party, a political party recognized
in the UK, Sweden and most recently in a few states in the US, wrote an open
letter to Anonymous last month requesting they halt Operation Payback and
consider more legitimate and legal routes to political change.
In a statement to Truthout, a spokesperson for the
UK Pirate Party reiterated that Anonymous
is not affiliated with WikiLeaks and their actions can be seen as an,
"an unusually violent expression of the
outrage that many online have expressed over the actions of Amazon,
EveryDNS, Mastercard, Visa, and PayPal."
Like Anonymous, the Pirate Party opposes
proposed legislation and charters in the US and Europe that would bolster
anti-piracy and copyright infringement laws.
Anonymous made headlines in 2008 during a campaign against the Church of
They have also publicly scuffled with Gene
Simmons, former member of the band Kiss, over illegal music downloads.