Noose Closes Around Pro-Wikileaks Vigilantes

Operation Payback is facing a little payback of its own. First Twitter closed the pro-Wikileaks hacker movement's account. And now we hear the Feds are shutting down some online discussion of Operation Payback attacks.

Some sites have received federal court orders to cease any further online documentation of the attacks, which targeted Visa, Mastercard and other financial companies who froze Wikileaks accounts, a source close to the situation tells us. Among the sites where content is coming down is Encyclopedia Dramatica, which we're told received one of the orders. The 4chan-affiliated reference wiki within the past hour had the number three Google hit for a search on "Operation Payback." It has since deleted its article, though the entry remains accessible via Google cache (NSFW). Here's what it looks like now (click to enlarge):

Noose Closes Around Pro-Wikileaks VigilantesS

The message board 4chan has also reportedly deleted threads documenting Operation Payback, but the anarchic image-sharing site is notorious for its churn and heavy moderation even in the absence of federal orders, so it's hard to tell exactly what's going on. (If you know of other sites affected, or have documentation on this reported court order, we'd love to hear from you.)

On Twitter, meanwhile, some people writing about the hacker raids have switched from using the hashtag #payback to using #payitforward, since, some believe, Twitter has been monitoring the original #payback tag and moderating some of those tweets.

Whatever its stance on discussion of the raids, Twitter is clearly done being used as the rallying point from which to organize them. The company shut down the @Anon_Operations account, which was being used to synchronize successful denial of service attacks on companies like Visa and Mastercard. (The account name has since been claimed by an apparent parody version, while a kindred site has sprung up at @AnonOps.)

Operation Payback was meant to punish companies like PayPal, Visa and Mastercard for freezing Wikileaks' assets. The effort, believed to be affiliated with the anti-Scientology 4chan spinoff Anonymous, was successful in the case of Visa and Mastercard, taking down both companies' websites. Whether the victory extends beyond those brief symbolic wins remains to be seen; both credit card firms claim their processing networks were not affected by the attacks.

The attempted punishment is also likely to produce a nasty PR backlash. Hacking Wikileaks' enemies might be cathartic, but it also reinforces the notion that there's something illicit about Wikileaks — and about the practice of publishing information the government would prefer, usually for its own selfish reasons, to keep secret.

[Photo of Assange via AP]