Is the International Cyberwar over WikiLeaks a Sign of the Future?

Supporters of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange have begun waging on online counter-offensive against companies attempting to shut down the functionality of the controversial media organization.
AP Photo

Supporters of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange have begun waging on online counter-offensive against companies attempting to shut down the functionality of the controversial media organization.

(Credit: AP Photo)

As Julian Assange sits in jail, the cyberwar over WikiLeaks continues to rage. It's an indication of how technology will play an increasingly central role in conflicts.

Governments, organizations and corporations are building cyber-fortresses, and some of the actors are building formal or loose armies of hackers to attack the opposition.

Most recently, China has attacked Google. The powerful Stuxnet internet virus of mysterious origin attacked Iran. Now, WikiLeaks and its detractors are going after each other on multiple fronts.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs offered assurance that the U.S. Government is not afraid of "one guy with one keyboard and a laptop," but the one guy and his organization are creating daily challenges for the U.S. government.  

The government has responded to the WikiLeaks' cable dump aggressively with rhetoric and tactical moves. The State Department is asking companies, such as MasterCard and PayPal, to sever ties with the controversial  organization, maintaining  that the diplomatic cables were provided to WikiLeaks in violation of U.S. law.

Several major corporations have ended their online relationship with WikiLeaks in recent days, bowing to direct pressure by the U.S. government.

But WikiLeaks exists primarily as an Internet-based organization, with no country to call home and no central earthly presence to attack, other than its founder, Julian Assange. In addition, WikiLeaks has yet to be indicted by any nation for conducting illegal activities.

Jumping into the cloudy ethical waters of the WikiLeaks situation have come hackers. At first, jingoistic hackers went after the functionality of WikiLeaks and its online hosts. Now, however, another set of online troublemakers claiming to be the website's supporters have begun to fight back against companies who attempt to deny the media organization's ability to function and raise money. 

CBSNews.com Special Report: WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks' supporters claim to have disabled Mastercard's website in response to the credit card giant's Monday decision to cease its payment service for the website. Although Visa has also denied WikiLeaks their services, no reports of them coming under attack have surfaced yet. 

WikiLeaks' hacker supporters also claim to have shut down PostFinance's website, the online portal of the Swiss bank which used to be founder Julian Assange's bank; and attacked PayPal's website, because they too denied WikiLeaks access to their services.

Per Hellqvist, a security specialist with the firm Symantec, told the Associated Press that a loose network of web activists called "Anonymous" from the 4chan imageboard appeared to be behind the attacks. The group, which has previously focused on the Church of Scientology and the music industry, has promised to come to Assange's aid by 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 on its website. "We want transparency and we counter censorship. ... This is why 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 Hacker Friends Claim MasterCard Attack
PayPal Takes Punches from Pro-WikiLeaks Hackers

The next round of warfare over WikiLeaks may move offline, however, as IT firm Datacell said it would take immediate legal action to try to force Visa and Mastercard to resume allowing payments to the whistle-blowing website, the BBC reports. Datacell claims they are being hurt financially by the credit card companies' questionable decision to stop payments to WikiLeaks.

For now, WikiLeaks' presence on Twitter and Facebook--perhaps the most important online portal for modern Internet organizations--is safe. Spokespersons for both Facebook and Twitter, which has become the main mouthpiece for the WikiLeaks organization, have said they have no immediate plans to kick the media organization off their sites.

As online attacks become more frequent, the price of cybersecurity will continue to rise in the cat and mouse game hackers continue to play with each other.

More on WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks Winning the Info War So Far
Timeline of Attacks on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange
Julian Assange Arrested in UK, Denied Bail
WikiLeaks: U.S. Can't Stop Middle East Arms Race
Swiss Cut Off WikiLeaks' Bank Account
WikiLeaks' Swedish Servers May Be Under Attack
Video: Julian Assange's Life on the Run
WikiLeaks Reveals U.S. Strategic Sites List
WikiLeaks' Assange May Seek Swiss Asylum

  • Joshua Norman

    Joshua Norman is a Senior Editor at CBSNews.com.

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