U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said today that authorities were looking into cyber-attacks on companies like Amazon.com and others targeted by hackers in the wake of the release of classified information by WikiLeaks.”We are aware of the incidents … and I’ll simply say we’re looking into them,” Holder told reporters after meeting European Union officials on a range of issues including terrorism, airline security, cyber-security and privacy.
The probe comes a day after supporters of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange launched an attack on the the websites of Visa and Mastercard, before reportedly turning their attention to the website of Amazon.com.
Mark Stephens, Assange’s attorney in Britain, told the Guardian newspaper on Thursday that his client was concerned that “people have unjustly accused WikiLeaks of inspiring cyber attacks.”
Assange is being held in the U.K.’s Wandsworth prison on an arrest warrant issued by Swedish authorities over sex charges. He transferred to a segregation unit on Thursday where he will have limited access to the Internet, the Guardian reported.
Meanwhile, Dutch prosecutors announced they had a 16-year-old boy in custody in connection with the attacks. In a statement, the national prosecutors’ office said the youth was arrested in The Hague, Netherlands. His name was not released. It was not clear whether he was believed to have played an important role in the attacks.
The campaign to avenge WikiLeaks against those who have obstructed its operations, calling itself Operation Payback, has already temporarily brought down the websites of credit-card giants Visa and MasterCard, and of the Swedish government.
Online retail and web-hosting powerhouse Amazon last week stopped hosting WikiLeaks’ website, and on Thursday it briefly became the main target of the pro-WikiLeaks campaigners — before they admitted it was too big for them, for the moment.
“We cannot attack Amazon, currently. The previous schedule was to do so, but we don’t have enough forces,” read one message on Twitter.
The activists said they would instead attack PayPal, which has suspended the WikiLeaks account that the organization had used to collect donations. MasterCard and Visa had also become targets after stopping processing donations.
At 1:10 p.m. EST, the websites of PayPal, Amazon — a key Christmas shopping destination — MasterCard and Visa all appeared to be functioning normally.
Facebook said it had removed the activists’ Operation Payback page on Thursday because it was promoting a distributed denial of service attack — a form of freezing websites by bombarding them with requests that is illegal in many countries.
The campaign also disappeared briefly from Twitter before reappearing in a different guise. Twitter declined to comment.
In an online letter, Anonymous, a loose-knit group, said its activists were neither vigilantes nor terrorists. It added: “The goal is simple: Win the right to keep the Internet free of any control from any entity, corporation, or government.”
Some of the motivation for the cyber campaign appears to stem from anger at the arrest in Britain of Assange over alleged crimes committed in Sweden. He is in jail in London, awaiting an extradition hearing.
Assange said last week he had expected clampdowns in countries such as the United States that championed free speech, and had deliberately picked providers like Amazon to host its data to test that theory.
Also, a website tied to Sarah Palin came under cyberattack, the former Republican vice presidential candidate said. In a posting on the social networking site Facebook, Palin called Assange “an anti-American operative with blood on his hands.” An aide said staff moved quickly to secure the website and no data was compromised.
“No wonder others are keeping silent about Assange’s antics,” Palin said in an e-mail to NBC News asking about the cyberattacks on her. “This is what happens when he is exposed and you exercise your First Amendment rights and speak up against Assange’s sick, un-American espionage efforts.”
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay voiced concern on Thursday at reports of pressure being exerted on private companies to halt financial or Internet services for WikiLeaks.
The campaign is not over from what I’ve seen, it’s still going strong. More people are joining,” a spokesman for the Anonymous group calling himself “Coldblood” told BBC Radio 4. The speaker, who had an English accent, said he was aged 22 and was a software engineer.
“Anonymous has targeted mainly companies which have decided for whatever reason not to deal with WikiLeaks. Some of the main targets involve Amazon, MasterCard, Visa and PayPal.”
In a statement on Thursday, MasterCard said although there was a limited interruption of some online services, cardholders could continue using cards for transactions worldwide. Its main processing systems were not compromised, the statement said.
The campaigners also claimed responsibility for bringing down Visa Inc’s site, which was temporarily unavailable in the United States, but later restored. Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet said the Swedish government’s website was down for a short time overnight in the latest apparent attack.
Moreover, a group of former WikiLeaks collaborators will launch a new leaks site next week to protest against Assange, a Swedish newspaper said on Thursday.