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December 13, 2010

Suspect arrested in WikiLeaks ‘revenge’ attacks

A 16-year-old Dutch male has been arrested after admitting to being involved in the pro-WikiLeaks Anonymous gang, responsible for hacker attacks on MasterCard, Visa and PayPals online services. The unnamed teenager was brought in by Netherlands Police on 8 December and appeared before a Rotterdam judge two days later. The judge allowed authorities to hold the suspect in custody for a further 14 days during which an investigation will take place.

By Verdict Staff

A 16-year-old Dutch male has been arrested after admitting to being involved in the pro-WikiLeaks ‘Anonymous’ gang, responsible for hacker attacks on MasterCard, Visa and PayPal’s online services.

The unnamed teenager was brought in by Netherlands Police on 8 December and appeared before a Rotterdam judge two days later. The judge allowed authorities to hold the suspect in custody for a further 14 days during which an investigation will take place.

“We have been investigating this with international authorities and we are working together with the FBI,” Dutch prosecution service spokesman, Wim de Bruin, told news agency Reuters.

The maximum prison sentence for the type of cyber-attacks seen by the ‘Anonymous’ group is six years in the Netherlands, according to de Bruin.

Both MasterCard and Visa fell victim to hacker attacks, collectively dubbed ‘Operation Payback’, as they stand accused of ‘bowing down’ to government pressure in its suspension of payments to whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

http://www.mastercard.com/ became paralysed last Wednesday and attempts to load the website were unsuccessful. A twitter update revealed by UK newspaper The Guardian served to confirm the self-titled ‘Anonymous’ group were behind the attack:

9.39am by user @Anon_Operation “WE ARE GLAD TO TELL YOU THAT http://www.mastercard.com/ is DOWN AND IT’S CONFIRMED! #ddos #wikileaks Operation:Payback(is a bitch!) #PAYBACK”

The hackers hinted via the twitter update that they mounted a ‘distributed denial of service’ (DDOS) attack in a bid to bring down the card association’s website.

Reuters  published a statement by the ‘Anonymous’ activists that claims their actions are merely ‘symbolic’ and they have no desire to steal personal information or credit card numbers.

MasterCard claims cardholder data was not compromised during hacker attacks on 8 December. However, the BBC was contacted by a payment firm linked to the card scheme who said its customers had suffered “a complete loss of service”.

“MasterCard has made significant progress in restoring full-service to its corporate website,” said a spokesperson for MasterCard on its company website.

“Our core processing capabilities have not been compromised and cardholder account data has not been placed at risk. While we have seen limited interruption in some web-based services, cardholders can continue to use their cards for secure transactions globally.

A spokesperson for Visa told UK newspaper The Telegraph its websites were “experiencing heavier than normal traffic”.

“We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause cardholders, however, this has no impact whatsoever in making a payment with Visa.”

The group of online activists have also targeted PostFinance – the Swiss bank where WikiLeaks’ founder and editor Julian Assange held his account before it was recently closed and PayPal. The hackers have only managed to take down PayPal’s blog but the threat to its service remains.

MasterCard, Visa and online payment method PayPal have all been reported to have pulled the plug on payments to WikiLeaks as the campaign against the whistleblowing website hots up.

WikiLeaks angered the US government by uncovering and subsequently releasing thousands of secret US military documents on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This led to calls for the website to be named a ‘terrorist’ organisation, which would effectively make it illegal for US banks to process its payments.

It has been widely reported by various media outlets that PayPal was the one of the first organisations to halt its dealings with WikiLeaks, claiming the website violated the terms of its ‘Acceptable Use Policy’. This says a payment service cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity. Other payment services soon followed suit.

A spokesperson for MasterCard Worldwide told technology website CNET: “MasterCard is taking action to ensure that WikiLeaks can no longer accept MasterCard-branded products.”

“MasterCard’s rules prohibits customers from directly or indirectly engaging in or facilitating any action that is illegal,” said a second MasterCard spokesperson, Chris Moneiro.

Associated Press also revealed Visa quickly followed its competitor and announced it too will suspend all payments to the website pending an investigation of the organisation’s business.

WikiLeaks has seen its finances systematically attacked in response to accusations of criminal activity by the website and sexual molestation allegations against Assange. As the website relies on donations to keep it alive, the announcements made by the card schemes to pull the plug on payments into the website are thought to have dealt it a huge blow in its campaign to stay in business and casts a dark shadow over its future.

In light of the shutdown by the high-profile payment organisations, WikiLeaks and its supporters have mounted their own campaign to ensure the website’s survival. Fund-raising requests are increasing and it is urging people to “Keep Us Strong”.

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