MasterCard Knocked Offline by WikiLeaks Hacktivists; Visa Next? (Update: Yes, Visa)

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In what appears to be the biggest coordinated cyber-siege on brands to date, supporters of embattled WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange have staged an unprecedented chain of online attacks on brands that have stopped doing business with WikiLeaks.

MasterCard’s site was targeted and knocked offline this morning following denial of service attacks on Amazon.com, PostFinance and EveryDNS — and PayPal, which clarified why it’s restricting WikiLeaks but released its remaining funds today, following an exec’s comments at a tech conference in Paris.

Those sites had dropped WikiLeaks in the wake of the thousands of leaked U.S. State Department cables distributed by WikiLeaks last week. MasterCard said the attack didn’t affect customers’ ability to use their cards, although the BBC heard otherwise.

Next in line for web takedown by the Operation Payback hacktivists: Visa, which (like MasterCard), was attacked after cutting ties with WikiLeaks.[more]

As threatened, Visa.com was taken down at 4pm EST; a celebratory tweet (above) urged protesters to “keep firing” at Visa.com.

MasterCard and Visa were also named as “beneficiaries” of State Dept. lobbying in the latest batch of classified U.S. cables released by WikiLeaks today.

Sites including Gawker posted background details on the 4chan-affiliated Anonymous, the “Operation Payback” organizers responsible for the web attacks and protests of brands severing business ties with WikiLeaks — which is managing to maintain its own web operations despite political pressure worldwide.

The Guardian and the New York Times reached the Anonymous hackers taking credit for the cyberbullying, with the Times reporting:

In an online chatroom at AnonOps.net [note: since moved] activists who announced their nationalities from around the world — “hello from Sierra Leone” — “hi from Austria” — talked openly of the attacks and said they would need 5,000 people to effectively paralyze PayPal. Many also plotted a rumor campaign to further destabilize Mastercard — suggesting that others spread stories that credit card numbers were not safe.

Facebook and Twitter today were still standing by WikiLeaks — AP describes Twitter as “choked” with solidarity for WikiLeaks, while the organization’s Facebook page now exceeds one million fans — while Operation Payback is still tweeting and Facebooking its intentions.

[Update: Facebook banned the Operation Payback page after the visa.com attack. Twitter suspended the hacktivists’ primary @Anon_Operation account by 8pm EST; @Op_Payback, @AnonOps and @Payback_Op remain active, along with @WikiLeaks. Twitter also refuted any allegations of censoring WikiLeaks-related trends.]

Sarah Palin’s camp also claimed they were attacked, while Senator Joe Lieberman’s website was also taken offline for a few minutes — the first .gov site to be hit, notes Mashable.

Some consumers have been worried about the safety of their credit card information, while brands are no doubt shoring up their cyber security. The impact on brand trust, meanwhile, remains to be seen. Your thoughts?

Update: The Economist‘s tech correspondent Brendan Greeley also spoke with the cyber protesters, as he tells PBS NewsHour:

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