In the latest volley in the escalating cyberwar involving attacks on WikiLeaks and its founder, anonymous hackers have blocked access and disrupted service to Web sites for MasterCard, the Swedish prosecutor's office and the attorney representing two women accusing Assange of crimes.
On Tuesday MasterCard and Visa began blocking donations to WikiLeaks by their cardholders, even though the organization hasn't been charged with any crime. The action prompted Operation Payback, an anonymous group of hackers opposed to Internet censorship, to block access to MasterCard's site and expose it to service disruptions.
Similar actions also have been taken against the Web site for the Swedish prosecutor's office that filed four sex-related criminal charges against Assange, stemming from sexual encounters he had with two women in August. The Web site for the women's attorney has been hacked, too.
Earlier this week Operation Payback struck at the Web site for PostFinance, a Swiss bank that blocked access for a legal defense fund established for Assange. PayPal and Amazon also have stopped transactions involving donations to WikiLeaks, and hackers say those sites might be targeted next.
Interestingly, some of the revelations included in document dumps by WikiLeaks indicate the Chinese government previously attacked the Google site over access issues, and that China also was suspected of possibly attempting to hack Pentagon computers.
Some computer experts are now classifying the chain of events as an all-out cyberwar, which they say amounts to World War IV. According to this school of thought, World War III was the protracted Cold War (1947-91) between the United States and the Soviet Union, which primarily involved conflicts -- violent and otherwise -- through proxies.
A few IT experts worry that the attacks could be used by governments as a pretext for imposing restrictions on access to the Internet.