Hackers excluded from social networking sites


ACCOUNTS BELONGING to hackers responsible for attacks on companies that are denying services to the WikiLeaks website were yesterday removed from popular social networking sites Twitter and Facebook.

The hacking campaign, known as “Operation: Payback”, had been using the accounts to co-ordinate attacks.

It has been reported that Twitter and Facebook made the decision after the hackers claimed to have leaked details of customer accounts held by credit card companies Visa and MasterCard.

The Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks being launched by Operation:Payback consist of flooding a website with traffic until it cannot handle normal rates of use. They are illegal in many jurisdictions.

Several alternative accounts for the movement were created on both social networking sites shortly afterwards.

The exact size of the Operation:Payback campaign is difficult to determine, but Dermot Williams of IT security company ThreatScape said “it’s been estimated that only 800 computers have been involved in taking down the Mastercard website”.

Yesterday saw more intense speculation regarding the group’s capabilities and targets. The attacks have already disabled the website of MasterCard, and temporarily affected some parts of electronic payment site PayPal. In some instances, MasterCard users have been unable to complete online purchases.

The campaign has also targeted a Swiss bank that closed an account belonging to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and the website of the state prosecutor in Sweden. Mr Assange is wanted on “sex crimes” charges in Sweden.

It is thought the group may also target Amazon, who earlier this week suspended web-hosting services to WikiLeaks.

Visa websites are also believed to be under attack. The credit card company, which has also suspended payments to WikiLeaks, said yesterday that both its on and off line payments systems were unaffected. However, it reported that its websites “are experiencing heavier than normal traffic which at times is leading to intermittent access”.

Traffic volumes this large are symptomatic of a DDoS attack.

The websites of American politicians who have criticised WikiLeaks, including Sarah Palin and Joe Lierberman, have also come under attack.

It is believed that micro-blogging website Twitter may also come under attack due to its decision to suspend the “Anonymous” account, but also due to a perception that it is censoring discussions about WikiLeaks.

Twitter ranks popular, or “trending”, conversations on its website, and many users are suspicious as terms relating to the diplomatic cables affair have not been listed in this manner. The company, however, insists that trending topics are selected by algorithm rather than by staff.