News / USA


"The Jester" says he's responsible for knocking Wikileaks off the Internet. "Anonymous" say they're targeting MasterCard and PayPal as punishment for stopping transfers to the controversial site. Across the web, a war is waging between supporters and opponents of Wikileaks. Will it be enough to tear a hole in the Internet?


By 9am Wednesday, the IRC chatboards were on fire.

<Anon_dude>: is NOT down - KEEP FIRING

<laowai>: MASTERCARD on stock market : -6.38

<matamou>: Saizad: mastercard is the target!

<malak>: ps. we are winning<blake7>: we are anonymous

Over 1,200 participants had gathered online at the impromptu website and were already several hours into their massive cyber-attack on the MasterCard website.  Calling themselves "anonymous", the hackers hoped to flood the company's pages with web traffic, crashing the site - or at least gumming things up enough to make life miserable for the credit card giant. The reason: "punishment" for MasterCard's decision to stop fund transfers to Wikileaks.

An hour later, the attacks seemed to be working.  But already, "hacktivists" on the other side were planning a counter-strike against Wikileaks; a strike they hoped would once again take the secret-busting website offline and out-of-view.

Welcome to the WikiWars.

Across the Internet, activists, hackers, and general mischief-makers are deploying the tricks of their trade, either in support of Wikileaks' decision to publish classified U.S. diplomatic cables, or to bring Wikileaks and its allies to their knees.  Using tactics such as"denial of service attacks", "Google-bombing" and others more arcane, partisans have turned the Web into a battlefield of sorts, as they debate and argue over the roles and responsibilities of journalists, online activists and governments in the digital age.

The battle may not have started with Wikileaks, but their actions have added hot fuel to the fight - and the rhetoric.

"It is an ongoing act of war, of sabotage, against the United States," says Caroline Glick, deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post and senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy. "That means that Wikileaks as an entity has to be declared a foreign terrorist organization, and all the people associated with it have to be treated as illegal enemy combatants."

And from the other side, the rhetoric is startlingly similar.  "The first serious infowar is now engaged," wrote John Perry Barlow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.  "The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are the troops."

The opening shots in this fight came almost immediately after Wilileaks' co-founder Julian Assange announced the much-anticipated publication of unseen, sometimes classified U.S. diplomatic cables on his website.  Critics of the release moved quickly, swamping Wikileaks' host computers with requests; in effect, creating a virtual blizzard of web traffic that, for a time, prevented anyone from accessing the site.

Their victory, however, was short-lived.  Anticipating the attack, Wikileaks began moving its site from host to host and domain to domain, switching web addresses and hop-scotching traffic across a tangle of hidden locations in an effort to elude future attacks. This virtual game of "Whack-a-Mole" continues to this day.

Soon a figure familiar to the "hacktivist" community who goes by the name "The Jester" began to take credit for knocking Wikileaks offline on several occasions - for what he claimed were patriotic reasons.  The Jester vowed to fight as long as Wikileaks remained online.

"This is not an unprecedented attack," says Hal Roberts, fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. Roberts has studied denial of service - or "ddos" - attacks around the world, particularly those launched from authoritarian regimes like Burma. The Wikileaks attacks, he says, are nothing new...and neither are the boastful claims of responsibility.

Listen to our complete interview with Hal Roberts:

"Even though there's a specific person claiming responsibility for the attacks on Wikileaks, the actual computers that are being used to attack Wikileaks are computers of people who have no idea what's going on," says Roberts.

"The Jester is claiming responsibilty for attacks on Wikileaks," he says.  "On the other side we have what's not really an organization but a very loose movement that calls itself 'anonymous' which is really an emergent community that organizes itself on a variety of discussion boards online."  The MasterCard attack was just one skirmish.

And while both sides may lay claim to some victories, Roberts says they employ very different methods.

"The Jester uses clever tricks and apparently a small number of machines; by contrast anonymous uses mass numbers of widely-distributed hackers," he says.  While this "hive-mind" tactic has been employed before - notably by hackers associated with 4chan - Roberts is skeptical the 'anonymous' attacks will have much of an effect.

That's a shame, says Glick, who advocates for a much more aggressive response by the U.S. government - both in the real and the virtual worlds.

"This is an act of cyber-warfare against the United States, an act of information warfare against the United States," she says.  "And I haven't seen the United States bringing to bear any sort of doctrine for defending itself against this kind of attack.  And that's what's so startling."

Listen to our complete interview with Caroline Glick:

Declaring Assange and Wikileaks as illegal enemy combatants and sabateurs, she says, would " up a whole host of actions that you can take against Wikileaks."  Among those: banning the website, cutting off its funding, apprehending and interrogating Assange, and even loosing the considerable resources of the U.S. government to knock Wikileaks off the web for good.

Glick goes a step further, saying that those media outlets that received the cables - such as the New York Times and Der Spiegel - should be prosecuted under the 1917 Espionage Act.  But, she adds, "I don't think under the current political climate in the Western world that it's possible to make the media pay a price for the kinds of things that they're doing."

She's not alone in invoking treason and punishment.  California Senator Dianne Feinstein (D) has called for felony charges against Assange under the 1917 law, and Delaware Senator Joe Lieberman (I) has labeled the Australian national a traitor.

It's tough talk, and it comes as no surprise to John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF.

"This was gonna happen sooner or later," he says.  "I actually thought it might happen before now, but this seems to be the opening salvo in what is going to be a protracted struggle."

Barlow and the EFF have been at the forefront of numerous online freedom battles, and this one is no exception.

"We support the right the right to know.  We support the right of a populace in a democracy to be informed," says Barlow.  While granting that some of the leaked information may be "hazardous" to some individuals, the EFF is generally supportive of what Wikileaks is doing.

"EFF takes the position that Wikileaks, having acquired the information, has the right to disseminate it, and nobody has the right to shut them or anyone else down online."

It's a fairly robust position of support that few other organizations have taken part, Barlow admits, due to the complicated nature of the issues, the Wikileaks organization, and co-founder Assange.  However, keeping with the battlefield metaphor, he says sometimes you choose the fight, and sometimes it chooses you.

"I can't say that Mr. Assange makes the absolutely perfect poster child, especially given these allegations in Sweden, and I also think that some of the things that were released are troublesome," admits Barlow.  "But you take the battle that you've got."

There are growing, and unsubstantiated, rumors online that the U.S. government may have already engaged in this cyber-battle, asserting pressure on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) or firms like Amazon and PayPal that had provided Wikileaks support or host computers - but only for a while.  And there are other rumors that perhaps activists like The Jester aren't working completly alone.

"Sure there are hints," says Hal Roberts.  "In this case you can certainly look at these attacks and say 'Hmm, it seems like it's in the interest of the U.S. government to have this site go down', and in fact many other governments around the world that don't want these cables released."  However such hints are only suspicions and notoriously difficult to prove.

In the end, most observers believe Wikileaks will remain online and continue to publish secret documents, angering many in power around the globe.

And the online activists - pro and con - aren't slowing their battleplans, either.

On his Twitter feed, the Jester tweets:

TANGO DOWN - for attempting to endanger the lives of our troops, 'other assets' & foreign relations

And just 12 hours after launching their MasterCard barrage, 'anonymous' is regrouping for the next assault.  It's moved off to another site, but in an outgoing message, one of the hive-mind warned simply, "...payback's a b***h."

And the WikiWars rage on.

Doug Bernard

Doug Bernard covers cyber-issues for VOA, focusing on Internet privacy, security and censorship circumvention. Previously he edited VOA’s “Digital Frontiers” blog, produced the “Daily Download” webcast and hosted “Talk to America”, for which he won the International Presenter of the Year award from the Association for International Broadcasting. He began his career at Michigan Public Radio, and has contributed to "The New York Times," the "Christian Science Monitor," SPIN and NPR, among others. You can follow him @dfrontiers.

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs