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Thousands Download Hacker Software in WikiLeaks Cyber-War

A supporter of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, holding a poster with his picture outside the City of Westminster Magistrates Court in London where Assange's case was heard, Dec 7, 2010

Web hackers are ramping up the cyberwar that has erupted overWikiLeaks as the number of people downloading the software used to disable MasterCard and Visa reached nearly 35,000.

A spokesman for the hackers, Gregg Housh, told VOA the hacker group "Anonymous" is hitting companies like Master Card, Visa and Paypal who "do bad things."

Housh says companies "need to learn" they cannot dropWikiLeaks , because the website has not broken any laws. He blames the companies for the attacks, saying they "basically stood up and raised their hands" and asked to be next.

Supporters of WikiLeaks say founder Julian Assange is a "hero" and that the cyberwar or "Operation Payback" is about ensuring "freedom of speech."

"Anonymous" boasts thousands of supporters, who discuss potential targets in an internet forum and launch attacks on websites. Housh said they live around the world, and are mostly in their late teens to late 20s.

Supporters of the cyber attacks were using chat rooms to distribute explicit instructions on how to download software needed to hack into their targets., an open source software website, shows that the number of downloads has spiked to more than 19,000 on December 9 from just 352 on December 3. Nearly 10,000 people who have downloaded the software live in the United States.

Housh says he and many others feel the United States is being "highly hypocritical" by going after Assange. He says "if we wanted to live in a country that did that, we would go live under a dictator."

The group started their campaign by attacking smaller sites, such as the Church of Scientology, that they believe violate different freedoms. Housh said followers never dreamed of such "lofty" goals, as taking down Visa's website.

The spokesman says the future of the group is unknown, but when asked about Twitter and Facebook, who have both canceled the accounts, he says they are unlikely targets.

The spokesman says disrupting the social media sites would irritate the public and be counterproductive for the movement, which rallies support on both sites.

Housh told VOA he does not take part in the illegal activites, but monitors them in order to be a spokesman for the group. He calls himself an "internet activist," who is a computer repair man and freelance web designer.