staff writer for Wired Magazine
Last Friday, President Barak Obama issued a statement announcing that he would not lend his support for the Stop Online Piracy Act, known as SOPA, citing concerns over First Amendment rights and cyber security risks. Introduced last October in Congress, SOPA would give content providers wide reaching powers to shut down websites distributing copyrighted materials.
All morning, hackers claiming to be fighting back on behalf of Julian Assange and Wikileaks have been attacking major websites that recently stopped offering services to the organization. "Operation Payback" has already brought down Mastercard's site, Paypal is under attack, as is a bank that froze Julian Assange's accounts. Meanwhile, Julian Assange is in custody in England, waiting to see if he'll be extradited to Sweden to face sexual assault charges. Ironically, the attacks on these major sites aren't all that different from similar efforts to bring down Wikileaks itself (one tactic being used is to take down the sites by pure volume of traffic). But how do they really work, and how do hackers decide what to target?
In the run up to the arrest of Julian Assange, large companies, including Amazon, Visa and Paypal, refused to continue doing business with WikiLeaks, saying the site and its staff had violated various terms of service. Being dropped has meant WikiLeaks has had to change its online domain name, source its documents from a different web hosting company, and, accept donations via methods other than credit cards. Was this tightening of the noose business as usual or an unethical over-use of corporate power?