ARCHIVED 12/9/10

December 9, 2010

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Oren Dorell and Jack Gillum, USA TODAY, 12/09/2010

A cyberattack by supporters of WikiLeaks against the MasterCard and Visa websites foreshadows a new generation of increasingly dangerous assaults on the Internet, security experts say.

“This will serve to inspire other bad guys,” said Rob Rachwald of Imperva, an Internet security company. “Terrorists will find inspiration from this.”

MasterCard and Visa, which cut ties with WikiLeaks, said cardholders’ accounts were not at risk and people were able to use credit cards safely.

The attacks Wednesday were part of a recent series by supporters and enemies of WikiLeaks, said Gunter Ollmann of Internet security firm Damballa.

“It’s like a Wild West shootout … and we’ve had these different organizations being caught in the crossfire,” he said.

Last week, WikiLeaks servers were knocked offline by people angry over its release of diplomatic and military information that critics said could embarrass the government and even risk lives, he said.

Wednesday’s attacks were run by “hacktivist” groups, including Operation Payback and Anonymous. They distributed software that swamps a website to thousands of participants. They coordinated the action on Twitter.

Operation Payback has attacked organizations that its participants believe are involved in Internet censorship, including recording and media companies that were trying to shut down illegal file-sharing sites, said Noa Bar Yosef at Imperva.

Anonymous has attacked Australian government sites to protest a firewall around the country that inspects incoming Internet traffic for threats.

Internet-security experts say the action Wednesday should be a wake-up call to act before larger and more damaging assaults.

“We have a substantial problem with our information networks, which are under constant attack,” said Larry Clinton, president of the Internet Security Alliance in Arlington, Va.

“We know tons about how to secure these systems,” he said, and more attacks could be managed if companies were more proactive about security.