Wikileaks war: Is this the first cyber war?

Chennai: The War cloud hovers over the cyber space, as the first concerted cyber war started by anonymous supporters of Wikileaks, intensifies.

Wikileaks started releasing, in a series of disclosures, thousands of United States diplomatic correspondence to the extreme embarrassment of the US State department. It is widely believed that US government has put pressure on US based web hosting companies urging them to stop hosting Wikileaks’ website, which resulted in the expulsion of Wikileaks from Amazon’s servers and leaving Wikileaks without operating main site. This, along with the arrest and possible extradition of its founder, Julian Assange, on rape charges and withdrawal of MasterCard and PayPal services to the Wikileaks organisation triggered what is called Operation Anonymous by the supporters of the Wikileaks.

Operation Anonymous started launching its cyber attack on MasterCard and PayPal web sites bringing their web services with Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS). Other targeted sites are Swiss Bank PostFinance which froze Assange’s finances and site of US Senator Joe Lieberman, who claimed to have contacted Amazon to pressure it to stop hosting the WikiLeaks site.

Thousands of Wikileaks supporters are downloading the software, which was used in the DDOS attack, in support of Wikileaks in the virtual war declared on it by the US Government. US and UK governments have sounded the alarm bells in anticipation of further cyber attacks. So far it seems like supporters of Wikileaks are winning. Support for Wikileaks is also pouring from various quarters. Navi Pillay UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed her concern over the pressure being created over the Wikileaks website. Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism faculty and officers wrote an open letter to the US President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder urging the government to treat Wikileaks as engaging in journalistic activity and to protect it under the First Amendment of the American Constitution. Questions were also raised about the actions of companies that are denying services to the website. An interesting development in this issue is that Wikileaks’ Iceland payment processor, Datacell ehf, toook legal action against MasterCard and Visa for breaching their terms of service with the provider by blocking payments to the whistleblowers’ website for a week, although that could be extended.

Julian Assange, though targeted by the western governments, was termed as the “Man of the year” by Time magazine, and is finding support from various quarters. Number of celebrities turning up to offer Assange, his bail money is a testimony to this. But his persecution has not stopped. Even though he was granted bail by a British court he was sent back to jail as Swedish prosecutors decided to appeal against his bail. With Assange still in the jail and still Wikileaks regularly releasing the cables it looks like the momentum generated by the whistleblower website has gained a greater proportion and is not dependent on its founder.

Wikileaks has its share of critiques who are arguing that in this cyber war business has become a casualty, and some argue that this movement is nothing but a vicious war launched by few people and they are able to launch attacks mainly because security analysts are unable to understand their opponent’s tactics, as DDOS attacks were used against other websites in the past. What ever may be the case, Wikileaks and its actions have triggered a serious debate, whose outcome will define the future of internet freedom.

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