Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Anonymous takes revenge for Julian Assange

EDIT: As of 7:40 pm Paypal has released Wikileaks funds.


The hacker group Anonymous attacked and crashed the websites of a number of corporate entities, including Mastercard, Visa, PostFinance and a Swedish prosecutors office on Dec. 7-8th. The attacks, coordinated on the Internet, are part of “Operation Payback”, Anonymous’s revenge on the corporate world for aiding the censorship of the questionably legal site Wikileaks, which has come under the world’s microscope after the release of over 250,000 confidential US State department cables. The group is also supporting the release of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange from police detention in the UK, who was denied bail after he was charged with sexual assault in Sweden.

Their revenge takes the form of an international network of +1600 computers, each networked into an internet cloud with one purpose: overloading a server of their choice with a flood of Internet requests. Called a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, it is accomplished with a relatively simple to use computer program Anonymous lovingly refers to as an “LIOC”, or “Low Orbit Ion Cannon”. All of the users communicate with each other over in an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel, where under a banner displaying their current target they discuss everything from collaborating efforts to the streaming radio station set up exclusively for this attack.

Those still learning the basics have their own chat room, where +850 users are either requesting or providing help in getting linked their computer linked into the hacker’s network cloud, the ‘Hivemind’.

At around 3:00 pm, there were +1800 members of anonymous in the IRC chat room “OperationPayback”. Their discussions all relate to the same subject: their target.
Having been down for hours already, wasn’t holding the interest of some of the members anymore. The night before they had taken down a number of corporate websites, all the while deciding collectively what their targets would be. Occasionally, attacks are suggested upon targets such as Interpol, Joe Liberman, the Pentagon and the Swedish government, but for the most part the suggestions are commercial entities.

The top banner suddenly changes, and now displays the group’s next target, scheduled for about 3:50. For the offense of denying their customers the ability to donate to Wikileaks, eBay owned Paypal had been sentenced to a DDoS attack by Anonymous. Objections are made, some arguing that Visa should be the next target - that their attack on Paypal would hardly be large enough to take down a network of that magnitude. The chat room administrators agree, and the banner changes again, with Visa now in their crosshairs for 4pm EST.

Over the next 50 minutes, the room swells to over 3000 members. To recruit more people for their cause, the hackers advertise at the home of Anonymous, Internet forum 4chan.

One of the members makes a report: “The LOIC network is crashing!”, and other members concur; the number of computers networked falls from 2800 to 266 in under 15 minutes. But there is hardly a consensus, and other members report numbers hovering around 2300.

The room exists in a state of total anarchy. Hundreds of messages are sent every minute. Every few minutes someone posts an update on the media’s coverage of their work. A link is posted to a live CNN news feed addressing the attacks on corporate networks, where it is reported that while Mastercard has been experiencing some connection problems, their card services are still intact.

4:00, on the mark: with over 3000 members in the room, the only thing being sent by anyone is “FIRE NOW”. 4:02: the reports start coming in. “Visa down in the US, Switzerland, Belgium, France, Portugal, Germany!”, “50% of the LOICs are still configured wrong, fix this please!”.

At 4:41, the radio announcer cuts into a song, announcing that “Ladies and gentleman, you’ve done it, Visa and Mastercard are down both online and in stores”. The +3500 members in the chat room rejoice, and congratulate each other.

Talk of a new target is already bounding about the message board. Facebook, Twitter and Paypal are all on the list. For now, Visa is taking the brunt of the group’s main weapon, the LOIC. Soon their focus will drift to another unlucky target, and soon after that to another until they run out of steam.

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