Pro-WikiLeaks Group May Attack U.S. Senate Website Next

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After hitting Paypal, Mastercard, and Visa, pro-WikiLeaks forces may hit the United States Senate website with a denial-of-service attack next.

According to a poll set up by the ad-hoc group, Operation Payback, the Senate could be their next target. It leads voting ahead of Re-attacking Mastercard, Re-attacking Visa, Sarah Palin's website, and Authorize.net. Out of a total of 1179 votes cast (as of 5:22 pm), 445 of them went to attacking the Senate website.

This iteration of Operation Payback formed in response to companies like PayPal, Visa, and Mastercard cutting off WikiLeaks from their services. It is composed of members associated through the loose network of people known as Anonymous, which specializes in denial-of-service attacks, among other general mischief. For more on how the group organizes itself, The Economist has a great piece called, "The 24-Hour Athenian Democracy."

It's important to remember that these denial-of-service swarms are not attacks or "hacks" in the sense that they break or break into the computers running a website. Rather, they clog up the pipes leading to the website so that others can't access it. In that sense, they are non-destructive attack. Perhaps the best off-line analog is picketing, although obviously it's hard to do a one-to-one mapping of the digital onto the real.

At least one Dutch teenager has been arrested in recent days in connection with Anonymous' activities.

And for clarity's sake we should also note that Anonymous is not affiliated with WikiLeaks in any way. The latter organization issued a statement neither condoning nor condemning the attacks.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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