Thursday, a 16-year-old boy was arrested in connection with the attacks on online merchants that have spoken out against WikiLeaks. It is the latest drama in an ongoing story that unfolds daily involving WikiLeaks.
WikiLeaks originally came under fire a few weeks ago when they published secret U.S. documents online, causing strain between the U.S. and some of its allies. WikiLeaks supporters argue their freedom of speech rights, while others argue this has created a matter of national security.
Free speech supporters have started a campaign dubbed “Operation Payback” that involved attacking and blocking major sites that have stopped supporting and publishing WikiLeaks content. The group has worked to block major sites like Amazon and most recently Moneybookers.
The 16-year-old is charged with being involved with the attacks on the websites of Mastercard and Visa. His identity was not immediately released. The boy was arrested in the Netherlands, and is due to appear in a Rotterdam court on Friday.
The group responsible for the attacks on Mastercard and Visa stated they may change tactics soon, and switch from blocking sites to trying to uncover additional information that could prove to be embarrassing to the U.S. government.
Members of the “Operation Payback” campaign – who call themselves Anonymous – stated that they were not hackers, but simply “average Internet Citizens. They said their goal was not to damage critical parts of major sites, but to attack their “public face.”
They said in a statement, “Our current goal is to raise awareness about WikiLeaks and the underhanded methods employed by the above companies to impair WikiLeaks’ ability to function.”
WikiLeaks is not supporting or condemning these online attacks, and claims to have no part in them. In fact, WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsoon said in a statement that the attacks are simply “a reflection of public opinion on the actions of the targets.”
The attacks involve flooding popular sites like Mastercard with fake visitors, which overloads them with traffic. Targets of these attacks have been any sites that have halted the acceptance of donations to WikiLeaks, or who have spoken in favor of the arrest of the site’s founder, Julian Assange.
Rather than hacking into someone’s computer to embark on the attack, the group relies entirely on volunteers to carry them out. The most recent numbers showed there were over 31,000 people who had downloaded the software that would allow the group to attack major websites using their computers, according to The Independent.
Assange is set to be extradited to Sweden where he is wanted for sexual assault. The group has threatened to attack the British government next if they follow through.
It’s unclear which branches of the British government would be attacked, but it’s likely the group will be a bit more choosy in their selections, after the attack on Amazon went pretty much unnoticed by the site.
Meanwhile, on Thursday the U.S. Justice Department said they’re “looking into” the attacks on WikiLeaks opponents.