By Mark Seibel | McClatchy Newspapers Jan. 27, 2011
WASHINGTON — The FBI said Thursday that it had served more than 40 search
warrants throughout the United States as part of an investigation into
computer attacks on websites of businesses that stopped providing services
in December to WikiLeaks.
The FBI statement announcing the search warrants was the first indication
that the U.S. intends to prosecute the so-called "hacktivists" for their
actions in support of WikiLeaks.
The search warrants were executed on the same day authorities in Great
Britain announced that they had arrested five people in connection with
the attacks, which temporarily crippled the websites of Amazon.com,
PaylPal, MasterCard, Visa, the Swiss bank PostFinance and others.
FBI officials were unavailable for comment, and the statement did not say
who was served or where the searches were conducted. The statement noted
that attacks, known as distributed denial of service attacks and which use
easily available software to shutdown a computer network by flooding it
with millions of requests for information, violate federal law and are
punishable by a prison sentence of 10 years.
The statement noted that a group known as "Anonymous" had claimed credit
for the attacks. Anonymous is also believed responsible in recent days for
attacks on government websites in Tunisia and Egypt.
British news reports said three of the five arrested were teenagers, aged
15, 16 and 19, and that the others were 20 and 26 years old. Dutch police
last month arrested two teenagers suspected of involvement in the online
The attacks were organized through social networking sites such as Twitter
in the days after WikiLeaks began publishing U.S. State Department cables
that apparently had been downloaded by an American Army private serving in
Iraq. Their first target was Amazon.com, which, at the behest of U.S. Sen.
Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., had stopped hosting the WikiLeaks website.
They spread to PayPal, MasterCard and Visa after those businesses declined
to process credit card payments destined to WikiLeaks.
PostFinance, a bank operated by Switzerland's postal service, also closed
an account that was registered to Julian Assange, WikiLeaks' founder. The
account number had been published on the WikiLeaks website with a
solicitation for donations. PostFinance said it closed the account because
Assange was not a resident of Switzerland, as Swiss law required.
The attacks did no long-term damage and in most cases only lasted a few
hours. But legitimate would-be users were unable to contact the sites
while the attacks were underway.
The FBI said it is working with several European governments and the
National Cyber-Forensics and Training Alliance (NCFTA) to identify the
source the attacks, which the FBI attributed to a type of software it
identified as "Low Orbit Ion Canon" tools. It said major anti-virus
programs had been updated to block such software.
Previously, the only known criminal investigation stemming from WikiLeaks'
publication of thousands of U.S. State Department cables was one that
seeks to tie WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange to Army Pfc. Bradley
Manning, who is suspected of providing the cables to the website. In
December, a federal magistrate in Alexandria, Va., issued a search warrant
to Twitter demanding the records of five of its users, including Assange
It was not known late Thursday whether those records had been surrendered.