Just hours after a Swiss bank froze access today to a legal defense fund established for WikiLeaks provocateur Julian Assange, a group of hackers have shut down the bank's Web site in an escalating "infowar."
A group calling itself Operation Payback took responsibility for the Internet attack on the Swiss bank, PostFinance, via its Twitter account. "We will fire at anyone that tries to censor WikiLeaks," the group said in its announcement.
PostFinance had said it blocked access to the account, which contains about $41,000, and stopped accepting donations because Assange lied about his residency when he opened the account. Bank officials said Assange couldn't provide proof of Swiss residency, making the account invalid. His supporters, though, countered that the bank only took its action because of pressure from the U.S. government and other nations angry at Assange and WikiLeaks.
In a video posted on YouTube, Operation Payback stated it would fight any attempts at Internet censorship. On its Twitter feed, it vowed to hack PayPal next.
"In these modern times, Internet access is fast becoming a basic human right," the video stated. "Just like any other basic human right, we believe it is wrong to infringe upon it."
During the past few days, both PayPal and Amazon.com have stopped service to WikiLeaks, and the U.S. government has blocked access to the Web site on all federal computers, including those at the Library of Congress.
Also, an American provider of Internet domain names — EveryDNS.net — withdrew its service to WikiLeaks Thursday. The provider stated it was experiencing multiple attacks by hackers that threatened its entire system, attacks that some computer experts say are being mounted by nation-states including possibly the U.S. government. As a result, WikiLeaks supporters have launched an estimated 500 mirror sites to continue public access to the once-confidential government documents posted by Assange.
The fast-paced, escalating series of events prompted the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an online free-speech group, to declare this was the start of the first bonafide war waged on the Internet.
"The first serious infowar is now engaged. The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are the troops," tweeted John Perry Barlow, the EFF's co-founder, on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Assange is expected to turn himself into British law enforcement officers Tuesday. He has been wanted on an Interpol arrest warrant stemming from a Swedish criminal charge based on having consensual sex without a condom. The charge, known as "sex by surprise" in Sweden, is punishable by a fine of about $715. His accuser has ties to a Cuban anti-Castro group that's been partially funded by the CIA in the past.
Although many Democrats and Republicans in the Establishment have criticized Wikileaks and promised to find methods to prevent future document dumps, the organization also has drawn some support from across the political spectrum, primarily from people concerned about free speech or civil liberties.
"In a free society, we are supposed to know the truth," said Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas). "In a society where truth becomes treason, we are in big trouble."