Online activists fighting to keep WikiLeaks alive

Activists set up mirror sites to keep WikiLeaks online while PayPal suffers a DoS attack over its decision to cut off services to controversial whistle-blower site.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read

Though it's in hot water with the U.S. government, WikiLeaks is being supported by online activists fighting to keep the site alive.

WikiLeaks is being propped up by a barrage of mirror sites created by activists following moves by Amazon to stop hosting its site and Domain Name System provider EveryDNS.net to cut off its DNS services, according to The New York Times. Such mirrors can replicate an entire Web site, ensuring that all content and documents remain online and accessible even if WikiLeaks' own site is taken down.

But some of WikiLeaks supporters are adopting a more hostile tone. On Saturday PayPal restricted access to WikiLeaks' account to prevent fund raisers from donating money to help the site. In return, the PayPal blog page that announced the decision to shut off WikiLeaks' account was taken offline for around eight hours last night by a distributed denial- of-service (DDoS) attack.

Experts at Panda Labs pointed to a statement from the "hacktivist" group Anonymous, which said that the PayPal blog would be the target of its first DDoS counterattack on behalf of WikiLeaks. Panda also cited comments from a Twitter account named AnonyWatcher, which released several statements related to the attack.

The offensive against PayPal could be a sign of bigger things yet to come. A poster on a file upload site has issued a rallying cry for further action on Anonymous' DDoS campaigns.

Twitter has also come under criticism from some who believe the microblogging site may be censoring trends devoted to WikiLeaks. Twitter trends reveal the most popular topics being tweeted. But Web site blogs such as OSNews, OSDir, Safety First, and StudentActivism.net have reported findings that terms such as #wikileaks and #Assange have not been trending nearly as heavily as they should given the amount of news and discussions surrounding WikiLeaks.

In response to such criticism, someone identifying himself as Twitter engineer Josh Elman e-mailed Angus Johnston of the StudentActivism.net site to defend his company saying that "Twitter hasn't modified trends in any way to help or prevent WikiLeaks from trending."

Trying to explain the absence of WikiLeaks in the top trends, Elman said that topics related to WikiLeaks are showing up in the company's trends dashboard, but aren't hitting the top ten. "While I personally feel this is a very important topic, that doesn't mean it's as widespread across the Twitter user base," Elman told Johnston by e-mail.

WikiLeaks, which has been in trouble with the U.S. government before, has come under intense fire lately over its release of classified and in some cases embarrassing U.S. State Department documents. While activists have been spurred to fight for the site, government officials have been up in arms, with several calling for WikiLeaks to be classified as a terrorist group.

And what of WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange? The U.S. government is demanding his head on a platter over the leaks of sensitive information, while Sweden still wants him on charges of sex crimes. But he may yet find refuge in his own country of Australia. The country's attorney general Robert McClelland said today that Assange would be allowed back in Australia and would be accorded the same protections given to any other citizen, according to CNN.

In making the offer public, McClelland was responding to comments from Assange last week that Australia would not only prevent him from returning home, but that the nation was working with the U.S. government to attack WikiLeaks.