Twitter Denies De-Trending WikiLeaks As Visa Takes A Pasting

WikiLeaks may be embarrassing various governments with its cable disclosures but it is also stirring up trouble on the Internet. Visa joined Mastercard as a notch in the belt of the Operation:Payback campaign.

Possibly to ward off similar attacks, Twitter has rushed to defend itself against accusations that it is blocking #wikileaks and #cablegate from topping its Trends list of popular Tweet topics. Though unconfirmed, Twitter was reportedly attacked and the site was blocked for two hours yesterday.

Blame The Algorithm Says Twitter

As the Internet gets twitchy about Amazon, Mastercard, Visa, Paypal and others taking various actions against Julian Assange’s organisation, the PR department at Twitter has gone on the defensive.

Carolyn Penner, from the press office at Twitter, wrote in the company’s blog: “This week, people are wondering about WikiLeaks, with some asking if Twitter has blocked #wikileaks, #cablegate or other related topics from appearing in the list of top Trends.

“The answer: Absolutely not. In fact, some of these terms, including #wikileaks and #cablegate, have previously trended either worldwide or in specific locations,” she explained.

Penner then goes into detail about how the Trending system works. Evidently, Twitter Trends are automatically generated by an algorithm which captures the hottest emerging topics. This does not mean the topics are necessarily the most popular Tweet streams because the algorithm is written to favour novelty over popularity.

Of the 95 million daily Tweets, the volume on a certain topic will Trend when it peaks at a given moment. That would mean that a topic that is constantly high may not Trend because its volume is not showing any growth.

Amazon was named as a target but hardly anyone fired. Those that did were redirected to attack PayPal. Amazon may be hoping to deflect attack because it is selling an ebook which includes all of the leaked cables under the title WikiLeaks Documents Expose US Foreign Policy Conspiracies. Despite reports that the book had been removed from the store by its author, it is still being advertised for sale for £7.37 – payable via PayPal, Visa or Mastercard.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) forced WikiLeaks to find a new hosting site last week and has issued the following statement:  “We’ve been running AWS for over four years and have hundreds of thousands of customers storing all kinds of data on AWS. Some of this data is controversial, and that’s perfectly fine. But, when companies or people go about securing and storing large quantities of data that isn’t rightfully theirs, and publishing this data without ensuring it won’t injure others, it’s a violation of our terms of service, and folks need to go operate elsewhere.”

Reprisals Hit New Targets

Meanwhile, the reprisal attacks from Anonymous Operation are continuing. While Mastercard was the most noticeable victim of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks yesterday it seems that Paypal was also getting a second pasting and the Website of Sarah Palin, the controversial US politician and outspoken critic of Wikileaks, was also down. Today the site was still unaccessible.

The Swedish Government, who have asked for Assange to be extradited from the UK to face rape charges, disappeared from the Web for a few hours last night. In a related DDoS exploit, the site of the lawyer representing the two women taking action against Assange was hit.

Of  these, the Mastercard site attack was probably the most damaging as its individual country sites all emanate from the mastercard .com domain.

In a terse press statement the company said, “Mastercard has made significant progress in restoring full-service to its corporate website. Our core processing capabilities have not been compromised and cardholder account data has not been placed at risk. While we have seen limited interruption in some web-based services, cardholders can continue to use their cards for secure transactions globally.”

Visa is a more distributed target but the mothership and its satellite, which have both stopped taking payments to WikiLeaks, were hit in the past 24 hours. As yet seems to be unaffected.

The Anonymous team is being helped by a growing army of botnet volunteers who are downloading software to turn their computers into weapons of digital destruction. According to anti-malware specialist Sophos, the majority are using Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC) software as their weapon of choice.

In reciprocal attacks, the Anonymous homepage is still inaccessible after receiving the attention of anti-WikiLeaks hackers. Facebook has also deactivated the Operation: Payback pages on its site under a terms of use violation clause. It will be interesting to see if the group tries to upset millions by bringing the Internet’s most popular site down.

Eric Doyle, ChannelBiz

Eric is a veteran British tech journalist, currently editing ChannelBiz for NetMediaEurope. With expertise in security, the channel, and Britain's startup culture, through his TechBritannia initiative

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