Wikileaks Cyberattacks: FBI Executes More Than 40 Search Warrants Across US

Five arrested in U.K. for alleged role in "operation payback" attacks.

ByABC News
January 27, 2011, 8:04 PM

Jan. 27, 2011 — -- Agents from the FBI today executed more than 40 search warrants around the United States related to last year's cyberattacks that targeted companies that cut off financial donations to Wikileaks following the website's release of U.S. diplomatic cables.

The search warrants were executed in conjunction with arrests in the United Kingdom of five people for their role in "Operation Payback," an effort apparently organized by a group of Internet hacktivists called "Anonymous."

Companies targeted in the cyberattacks included MasterCard, Visa and PayPal.

The companies were subjected to distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS) that flood Internet sites and computer networks with requests for information and commands making the networks and websites unavailable to computer users.

"Operation Payback" was launched as a form of protest against companies breaking their ties with Wikileaks and impairing its ability to raise money.

At the time of the attacks, it was reported that websites for Sarah Palin's PAC and for the Swedish prosecutor's office, seeking Wikileaks founder Julian Assange's extradition on rape charges, also were targeted in the attacks.

A press release posted on the FBI's website late on Thursday noted, "These distributed denial of service attacks are facilitated by software tools designed to damage a computer network's ability to function by flooding it with useless commands and information, thus denying service to legitimate users. A group calling itself "Anonymous" has claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying they conducted them in protest of the companies' and organizations' actions. The attacks were facilitated by the software tools the group makes available for free download on the Internet. The victims included major U.S. companies across several industries."

The FBI noted in the press release, "The FBI also is reminding the public that facilitating or conducting a DDoS attack is illegal, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, as well as exposing participants to significant civil liability."