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Supporting WikiLeaks, Anonymous Takes Down Major Sites in 'Operation: Payback'

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The crew over at Anonymous have spent the last day or so letting everyone know exactly where they stand in the war over WikiLeaks. The group kicked off Operation: Payback by targeting companies, governments and public figures that have made it difficult for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks to continue their operations. The infamous and nebulous hacker collective launched massive DDoS attacks against MasterCard, Visa, PayPal and Amazon, as well as sites representing the Swedish government, Joe Lieberman and Sarah Palin. (Anonymous even went the extra step of attempting to hack Palin's credit card account.) The attacks were made in response to decisions by the two credit card companies and by PayPal to cut off payments and donations to the whistleblower site. Palin and Lieberman, meanwhile, have both made public denouncements of the site and its founder. The Swedish government was targeted for seeking to arrest Assange over sexual assault charges. (Seriously, Anonymous? How about we let him go to trial and prove he's not a rapist before we start hacking government websites in his honor.)

A spokesperson for Anonymous, who goes by the name Coldblood, has told the BBC that Operation: Payback is not over yet. "It's still going strong," he said, "more people are joining, more and more people are downloading the voluntary botnet tool." Coldblood, Anonymous and its supporters are all painting themselves as the protectors of free speech in the conflict over WikiLeaks.

Free speech on the Internet is always a contentious topic. Many people advocate for the Web to be a bastion of unfiltered and unregulated content. Companies and governments do seek to exert some control over the Internet for various reasons -- sometimes for good (e.g., cracking down on child pornography) and sometimes not (we're looking at you, China). Social networks have, more or less, been a haven for free speech advocates, who have used tools like Twitter and Facebook to communicate in countries with oppressive regimes. But, in the case of WikiLeaks, many have been put in a difficult position. Sites like Twitter and Facebook take the idea of free and open communication very seriously, but they're also likely facing pressure from the U.S. government (as PayPal was) -- and that's perhaps why Anonymous's Facebook and Twitter accounts were recently suspended.

Assange and WikiLeaks have, so far, remained quiet on the activities of Anonymous, which has also targeted a Swiss bank that put a freeze on Assange's defense fund, and the site of the Swedish prosecutor representing the two women who have accused Assange of sexual assault. Assange may not want to alienate any allies he may have left, and it would be unfair to blame him for actions taken on his behalf by a group of Internet miscreants. Still, if he wants to ensure that he wins the PR war against the governments of the world, he'd do well to distance himself from the attacks.

Anonymous has posted a video (below) explaining its actions and motives to the media and the public.

Tags: anonymous, ddos, FreeSpeech, government, hack, JulianAssange, politics, SocialNetworking, top, web, wikileaks