Fast Company

WikiLeaks Loyalists Hack MasterCard: The Future of Active Protests

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4Chan's Anonymous "hacktivists" have launched attacks on various websites in revenge for what they see as illegal treatment of WikiLeaks and its head Julian Assange. This is the future of protestation in our digital era: active Web action.

Forget waving placards, laying down in the road to stop convoys, or even shaking your fists angrily at police in city-center standoffs: A dispersed group of online protestors have protested against the treatment of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks by individuals and corporations the world over by firing off denial of service attacks at websites. MasterCard's website is currently unavailable, though the company claims its digital credit-processing systems are still working perfectly.

Anonymous, a group on controversial chat site 4Chan, pledged to wreak revenge for what it sees as hounding of Julian Assange, and cowardly censorship actions toward WikiLeaks' website itself, which it referred to as the first move in an "infowar." Anonymous member "Coldblood" spoke to the BBC and reported that "multiple things" were going on to attack certain sites, implying that more than a basic DDoS battle was going on. "Websites that are bowing down to government pressure have become targets," he noted, adding that the efforts weren't necessarily intended to take down websites, but rather to hit companies where it hurts--in the wallet: "The idea is not to wipe them off but to give the companies a wake-up call. Companies will notice the increase in traffic and an increase in traffic means increase in costs associated with running a website."

MasterCard/Visa would seem natural targets for this protest, since they were previously happy to work with WikiLeaks, but recently pulled their service support citing violation of terms of service (and yet are still happy to let you fund the KKK, as our WikiLeaks infographic reveals). Anonymous also confirmed it was going after PostBank.ch, the Swiss bank which recently cut off Julian Assange's account. A DDoS attack aimed at www.aklagare.se, the Swedish prosecutor's office behind the sex crime charges laid against Assange, reportedly took down the site within 10 seconds.

These moves highlight that digital protests are getting smarter, and can potentially have significant effects on businesses capability to operate, in an age where more and more of our work is carried out online. MasterCard's website being taken down in a DDoS attack will cost the company, and although the amount of cash is probably paltry, the threat behind Anonymous's action is clear. The Swedish prosecutor's office is, of course, a much smaller operation and lacks the million-dollar network infrastructure behind a multinational company like MasterCard--it's no surprise that it was very quickly swamped by a DDoS attack.

Hack attacks are definitely the future of active protests. They're relatively easy to pull off, easy to participate in, and don't require leaving your desk if you're an activist.

To read more news on this, and similar stuff, keep up with my updates by following me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.

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