Thousands of hackers have stepped up their first ever Cyber World War to draw support for WikiLeaks and to stop repression on Julian Paul Assange, the founder of the Wikileaks on Thursday(December 9, 2010).
The Swedish government's website was forced offline after a group calling itself "Anonymous" vowed to intensify its "war of data" against Mastercard, Visa and other groups which have blocked funding to WikiLeaks.
Organisers of the group said thousands of volunteers had joined the defence of WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, who is in jail in London on an extradition request from Sweden over sex crimes allegations.
"This is a war of data, we are trying to keep the Internet open and free for everyone, just the way the Internet has been and always was," said a spokesman for Anonymous, a man with a British accent calling himself "Coldblood".
Anonymous is a loose-knit group of hacktivists politically motivated hackers. It is also helping to create hundreds of mirror sites for WikiLeaks, after its US domain name provider withdrew its services.
Anonymous said that it has hit several targets, including the website of the prosecutors who are acting in a legal case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Meanwhile, the UN's human rights chief expressed concern about pressure on private companies to stop providing financial or Internet services for WikiLeaks.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin voiced support for WikiLeaks' boss Julian Assange, describing his detention in Britain as "undemocratic".
Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva expressed "solidarity" with Assange, blasting the Australian activist's arrest as a blow against "freedom of expression."
In an online chat with AFP, organisers said they had started with only around 50 users taking part in the distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks that bombard websites to take them offline, but now had around 4,000.
"We recruit through the Internet, that means, everywhere: imageboards, forums, Facebook, Twitter... you name it, we're using it," they said.
Twitter and Facebook later removed accounts for the Anonymous group's "Operation Payback" campaign on the grounds that it was targeting individuals.
As well as Mastercard, Visa and PayPal, hackers have also shut the website of the Swiss Post Office bank for severing ties to WikiLeaks and the website of the Swedish prosecutor's office for pursuing Assange.
They also threatened to knock Amazon.com offline but their initial cyber attack appeared to have failed.
The latest apparent victim was the Swedish government, according to a report in the country's top-selling daily newspaper.
Aftonbladet said the official government website, http://www.regeringen.se/, was offline for a few hours overnight on Thursday(December 9, 2010), publishing a screen shot which showed the server could not be reached.
The paper also reported that WikiLeaks supporters had created a website bearing Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask's name which then redirected users to WikiLeaks own site.
Members of Anonymous also took aim on Wednesday at the websites of US conservative standard bearer Sarah Palin and US Senator Joe Lieberman, who called for US companies to withdraw technical support for WikiLeaks.
Palin has described Assange as "an anti-American operative with blood on his hands" and called for him to be hunted down like al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
Paul Mutton at the security firm Netcraft, who is monitoring the attacks, said Visa is considered a more difficult target and the attack on it required a much larger number of hacktivists, 2,000 compared with 400 for Mastercard.
Earlier the BBC was contacted by a payment firm linked to Mastercard that said its customers had "a complete loss of service".
In particular, it said that an authentication service for online payments known as Mastercard's SecureCode had been disrupted.
Other readers have also said that they have had problems with online payments. The scale of the problems is still unclear.
Mastercard acknowledged there had been "a service disruption" involving its SecureCode system, but it added: "Our core processing capabilities have not been compromised and cardholder account data has not been placed at risk.”
Other firms that have been hit in the recent spate of attacks include the Swiss bank, PostFinance, which closed the account of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Before the Mastercard attack, Coldblood, told the BBC "Websites that are bowing down to government pressure have become targets," he said.
"As an organisation we have always taken a strong stance on censorship and freedom of expression on the Internet and come out against those who seek to destroy it by any means."
"We feel that WikiLeaks has become more than just about leaking of documents, it has become a war ground, the people vs the government," he said.
Coldblood admitted that such attacks "may hurt people trying to get to these sites" but said it was "the only effective way to tell these companies that us, the people, are displeased".