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Visa, MasterCard suffer DoS attacks from WikiLeaks fans

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December 8, 2010

The websites of both MasterCard and Visa were inaccessible at many times today due to DoS (Denial of Service) attacks by some Wikileaks fans that want to protest the two credit card companies for cutting off WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange's personal accounts.

"The issue appears to be the result of a concentrated effort to flood our corporate website with traffic and slow down its access," said MasterCard spokesman James Issokson, in a prepared statement. "We are working to restore normal service levels."

Issokson said the DoS attack didn't affect the use of credit cards or financial security, however, but just the public-facing websites. Representatives from Visa were not immediately available for comment, since the attacks happened after 5.00 PM EST. Mastercard's site was attacked earlier this morning at around 10.30 AM EST.

But Adam Levin, consumer credit and privacy expert for Credit.com said that it's cause for alarm for credit card holders, who should "religiously monitor their accounts daily for signs of fraudulent activity, especially at this busy time of the year, both with physical store sales as well as online."

"In the real world, not one single account is fully and completely safe from economic terrorism," said Levin. "The sophistication level of hackers grows geometrically every single day."

Like MasterCard and PayPal, Visa Europe, a division of Visa International, also stopped accepting payments for WikiLeaks.

"Visa Europe has taken immediate and specific action to suspend Visa payment acceptance on WikiLeaks' website pending investigation into whether it contravenes Visa operating rules, including compliance with local laws in the markets where we operate," said Visa, in a prepared statement.

This morning, supporters of WikiLeaks claimed to have launched the cyberattack in retaliation for MasterCard's refusal to accept credit cards on the WikiLeaks site.

Issokson wouldn't comment on allegations of who was behind the attack, but today, MasterCard said it was "working to suspend the acceptance of MasterCard cards on WikiLeaks."

On Twitter, a post from a handle called @Anon_Operations took responsibility for the attacks, tweeting about its so-called Operation Payback: "We are glad to tell you that Mastercard.com is down and it's confirmed. Operation: Payback is Working!"

There was no immediate confirmation that whoever was behind the handle was responsible for the attack, however.

The corporate website for PayPal was also the subject of an attempted DoS (denial-of-service) attack in recent days as well, although the site still remained operational, according to PayPal spokeswoman Charlotte Hill.

"These attacks have at times slowed the website down a bit, but have not significantly impacted payments," she said. Hill confirmed that this happened after PayPal denied service to WikiLeaks late last week.

PostFinance, a Swiss bank, also had problems with its website today, when it announced that the site was "overloaded owing to a multitude of online enquiries." It was confirmed later that it was in fact another DoS attack very similar to what have so far happened to Visa, MasterCard and PayPal.

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This happened the day after PostFinance announced that it had closed the account of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for having "provided false information regarding his place of residence when opening the account."

The PostFinance website was back up later Wednesday, however. Credit.com reported, on its blog, that credit card companies and financial firms were making it difficult for supporters to funnel cash to WikiLeaks.

"With such major players cutting off its access to funds, the financial pressure on WikiLeaks appears to be mounting," wrote Credit.com on its blog. "The site can accept donations through DataCell, a Swiss credit card company, and through bank transfers to accounts in Germany and Iceland, though the decision by Visa and MasterCard to block transfers may make it difficult for those channels to still remain open, nevertheless."

DataCell reported today that MasterCard and Visa payments were being rejected in its "donation system" through the WikiLeaks website. DataCell said it was taking "immediate legal actions to make donations possible again."

"The suspension of payments towards WikiLeaks is a violation of the agreements with their customers," said DataCell, in its news release. "This does clearly create massive financial losses to WikiLeaks which seems to be the only purpose of this suspension."

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Source: Visa and MasterCard.

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