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WikiLeaks Hackers Abandon Cyberattacks, Turn to Straightforward Exposure [Update]

When PayPal (EBAY) released the funds of WikiLeaks it had frozen, you could -- maybe -- chalk one up for the hacker activists supporting WikiLeaks, who'd launched a campaign of computer attacks against people and companies seemingly arrayed against the whistleblowing site. But that strategy already appears to be running out of steam.

The hacktivists' tactics have taken fire from several quarters, including the hacking community itself. Moreover, some of its actions had begun to fail, evidenced by an unsuccessful attempt to take down Amazon.com (AMZN). A 16-year-old boy in Holland was arrested for allegedly taking part in the attacks. Furthermore, Anonops.net, the address for so-called Operation Payback, appears to be offline, suggesting some sort of official action.

By now, this is clearly no longer a winning campaign. And so the hacktivists appear to taking the unusual step of embracing -- get this! -- legal tactics. In particular, they're combing through WikiLeaks' archives to find the most damning stories and then publicize them. It's an approach that likely has no possible legal counteraction and that goes to the heart of the controversy: what the secret cables can actually reveal.

The hackers, collectively going under the collective name Anonymous, had targeted such companies as PayPal, MasterCard (MC), Visa (V), and Amazon for denying services that WikiLeaks needed to operate. One of their biggest critics turned out to be 2600 Magazine, a publication by and for hackers. The magazine said that the attacks would not only give authorities an excuse to clamp down on hacking, but would also distract attention from the important issues at stake:

Most importantly, these attacks are turning attention away from what is going on with Wikileaks. This fight is not about a bunch of people attacking websites, yet that is what is in the headlines now. It certainly does not help Wikileaks to be associated with such immature and boorish activities any more than it helps the hacker community. From what we have been hearing over the past 24 hours, this is a viewpoint shared by a great many of us. By uniting our voices, speaking out against this sort of action, and correcting every media account we see and hear that associates hackers with these attacks, we stand a good chance of educating the public, rather than enflaming their fears and assumptions.
The magazine went on to suggest alternatives such as boycotting "enemy" companies instead of attacking them and mirroring the WikiLeaks site to keep the information available.

Apparently the hackers involved in the pro-WikiLeaks attacks came to a similar conclusion:


(LOIC stands for Low Orbit Ion Cannon, an application that hackers use to launch distributed denial of service computer attacks.)

[Update: Because the group is amorphous and without official organization, there is not necessarily a unified strategy. Apparently there have been thousands of overnight downloads of the software used in previous attacks.

This new approach would turn attention back to the content of the cables and help counter a different criticism: that the cable leaks involve only routine information and not "scandalous information that almost nobody knew." There have already been some eye-opening stories coming out of the cables' revelations:

In each of these cases, it was the U.S. government making the allegations. In other words, the government knew or suspected each of these stories. And this is just after a few days of the release of the cables. Given the amount of material in the cables, who knows how much could be missed? The more people looking at them, the more real and substantial information, which should be vital to a participatory republic, can emerge. It's hard to think of a scenario that could be scarier to governments and corporations alike. No wonder authorities have mounted such a concerted effort to stop WikiLeaks.

Not that the hactivists' new efforts are completely bad for business. Such companies as Facebook and Twitter, which the hackers had used for communications and that have been in the middle of a cyberwar must be breathing a sigh of relief. What will the government do? Pressure them to keep young people from reading and writing?

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