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

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!)

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

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

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

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