- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2010

Police and prosecutors in Europe and the U.S. have launched investigations into cyber-attacks by supporters of the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, as online skirmishing over the group’s publication of secret diplomatic communications continued.

The Dutch public prosecutor’s office announced Thursday the arrest of a 16-year-old boy in connection with the attacks, which have targeted corporations that have cut online payment services to WikiLeaks. A statement from the office said the boy had confessed and was “probably part of a larger group of hackers, into which the investigation continues.”

The attacks have targeted the firms’ Internet infrastructure using “distributed denial of service” (DDOS) attacks, which aim to overwhelm the target with bogus digital traffic. Attacks against MasterCard and Visa websites and a PayPal blog appeared to have succeeded for some hours on Wednesday, but a much-touted attack against Amazon.com on Thursday appeared to have fizzled.

“We are aware of the incidents,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. told reporters in Washington when asked about the attacks. “I’ll simply say we’re looking into them.”

Officials at the Justice Department and the FBI, which typically would lead such an investigation, declined to comment.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on homeland security, called for indictments. “Those that have initiated these attacks, it’s a criminal action and they ought to be prosecuted,” he told The Washington Times.

A WikiLeaks statement said: “We neither condemn nor applaud these attacks. We believe they are a reflection of public opinion on the actions of the targets.”

The group denied having any contact with the attack organizers and noted that it had been the target of cyber-attacks as well.

Other targets of the pro-WikiLeaks attacks — which participants have branded Operation Payback — have included the Swedish Justice Ministry, which has sought the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for questioning on sexual assault charges; a Swedish lawyer representing the two women who made the charges; and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has called Mr. Assange an “anti-American operative with blood on his hands.”

One of the most vocal groups organizing the cyber-attacks is Anonymous, which says in its manifesto that it is “a spontaneous collective of people who share the common goal of protecting the free flow of information on the Internet.” The group provided an online cyberweapon that supporters can download to join the cyber-attacks.

“No wonder others are keeping silent about Assange’s antics,” Mrs. Palin e-mailed ABC News about the attacks against her website. “This is what happens when you exercise the First Amendment and speak against his sick, un-American espionage efforts.”

Anonymous’ main public website was unavailable Thursday. But, demonstrating the resilience of cybernetworking, the collective continued to use other websites and Internet communications such as Twitter to call for and coordinate attacks.

“It’s just a group of people and whatever ideas get floated about, if people think they’re good enough then they get acted upon,” one of the group’s supporters told the BBC.

Swedish authorities also said they were investigating an attack against the website of the prosecutor who issued the warrant that led to Mr. Assange’s arrest and jailing on Tuesday in London. The website was unavailable much of that evening.

The attacks and counterattacks to some extent echo the offline divisions of opinion over WikiLeaks and its formerly elusive founder, Mr. Assange.

WikiLeaks has angered governments and corporations worldwide with its extensive data dumps of secret material. But to many self-described “netizens” — who see themselves as Internet citizens of a borderless online world — Mr. Assange has become something of an icon.

• Shaun Waterman can be reached at 123@example.com.

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