The Web will eat itself over WikiLeaks

Sites are taking sides, hacks are being launched, a full-scale cyber war is under way -- all because of WikiLeaks

We are at war, and I don't mean the literal kind. It's the first all-out cyber war, not between nations but between factions: those who agree with what WikiLeaks is trying to do, and those who oppose them.

Nearly everybody is picking sides. Amazon's hosting service ditched WikiLeaks after a day, presumably as a result of pressure from Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman. EveryDNS did the same, citing its inability to cope with DDoS attacks launched by "hacktivists" opposed to the leaks. PayPal, Visa, and MasterCard have refused to handle payments for donations to WikiLeaks -- at least in part due to pressure from the U.S. State Department.

[ Check out a few samples of Cringely's long history covering WikiLeaks: WikiLeaks: A terrorist's best friend?. | WikiLeaks launches Web War III | Spies, WikiLeaks, and hackers, oh my! | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

Meanwhile, Facebook says it won't shut down its WikiLeaks pages because the organization has done nothing to violate its terms of service. And Google is trying to be Switzerland, offering up links but (as blogger John Batelle notes) not stepping up to mirror the site in the cause of informational freedom.

In my last post, I accused WikiLeaks of acting more and more like 4chan. Well, guess who just emerge to defend WikiLeaks? That's right, that collective of 4channers better known as Anonymous.

As yet another fork of its seemingly endless vigilante exercise Operation Payback, Anonymous launched DDoS attacks against MasterCard, PayPal, Julian Assange's Swiss bank, and the Swedish prosecutors who are bringing charges against Assange for sexual assault. Still, it's a little like shooting a paintball gun at tanks in Tiananmen Square -- you can make a few colorful splashes, but you're unlikely to stop anything.

Naturally, some antileakers are reciprocating with attacks on one of Anonymous's own sites, taking it offline. It's a shootin' war, and no one knows where it will lead or when it will end. You'd best keep your head low.

I realize there are other events taking place in Tech Land these days. Google, for example, seems determined to roll out a new operating system every damned day -- Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Chrome, and so on. But I can't stop thinking about WikiLeaks.

Why? Because this is the single most important story to hit the Internet ever. It dwarfs the Drudge Report's Monica Lewinsky scoop, the Twitter anti-Tehran uprising, and even the Pam Anderson sex video. Never before has a small band of whatever-you-want-to-call-thems taken on every major nation simultaneously, twisting them into knots. But thanks to the distributed nature of the Net, they have -- and I suspect they won't be the last.

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