Julian Assange granted bail, but is it enough to quiet 'Anonymous' hactivists?

Hackers that gather online under the banner 'Anonymous' were watching closely to decide their next move in defense of WikiLeaks.

By , Staff writer

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    WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange leaves the City of Westminster Magistrates' Court in London, Tuesday, Dec. 14. Assange was granted bail today by a London court, a week after being jailed on a Swedish arrest warrant.
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WikiLeaksJulian Assange was granted bail today by a London court, a week after being jailed on a Swedish arrest warrant. But it remains to be seen if the ruling will end the cyberattacks launched in defense of WikiLeaks.

Hundreds of protesters had gathered outside the London court today, with thousands of online activists keeping a close eye on the hearing. Among them were computer hackers associated with the loosely knit "hactivist" association known as Anonymous.

“There definitely could be a big reaction. We'll just have to wait and see,” says Gregg Housh, an unofficial media contact on behalf of Anonymous.

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Indeed, Britain's national security adviser Peter Ricketts has warned that government ministry websites may be the next to come under attack from the global network of computer hackers.

It was not immediately clear if Mr. Assange would be released from jail, reported the Associated Press, as Swedish authorities vowed to lodge an appeal. He is wanted for questioning in an investigation into allegations that he sexually assaulted two women. If released, he would have to give up his passport, wear an electronic tracking device, and report to a local police station nightly.

Assange, through his lawyers, has denied the allegations and claimed the encounters with his accusers were consensual. He must return to the court Jan. 11 for a full extradition hearing.

The bail was set at $310,000, with a portion paid by filmmaker Michael Moore, who in a statement today also vowed “the assistance of my website, my servers, my domain names, and anything else I can do to keep WikiLeaks alive and thriving.”

Mr. Moore said he was putting up $20,000 toward bail, which is also partially being covered by "a cast of well-known supporters present in court, including the filmmaker Ken Loach and Jemima Khan, a socialite and political activist," according to The New York Times.

Moore's offer comes as Assange's embattled secret-spilling website, WikiLeaks, has seen support drop from corporations willing to host its information or facilitate its finances. WikiLeaks was booted from its US-based web servers and also from its US-based domain shortly after it began posting online some 250,000 leaked US diplomatic cables on Nov. 28. WikiLeaks has since taken up a Swiss-based domain name, WikiLeaks.ch, basing itself on Sweden-based web servers while also appearing on more than 1,000 mirror websites.

In retaliation for the perceived attacks on WikiLeaks and Assange, Anonymous hackers have launched cyber attacks on organizations that have refused support for WikiLeaks and its embattled founder. The hackers claimed responsibility for a series of "distributed denial of service" (DDoS) attacks last week temporarily brought down the websites of MasterCard, Visa, and the Swedish government.

Those attacks, called “Operation Payback,” have since given way to “Operation Leakspin,” which aims to disseminate and call attention to WikiLeaks’ leaked diplomatic cables on the Internet.

One German-based participant in the Anonymous attacks told the Monitor by e-mail: "The new project is Operation Leakspin, where we try to work on the cables by ourselves, and publish it everywhere, so that this stuff is so spread on the Internet and the US has no more chance of censorship.”

But as Anonymous has come out in support of WikiLeaks, it, too, has come under DDoS attacks from unknown sources.

“Someone, and we have really no idea who, is still [attacking] our communication channels via IRC [Internet Relay Chat] and websites and stuff, for example yesterday,” said the Anonymous participant, who declined to be named.

Anonymous lacks a hierarchy or organizational structure. So-called "Anons" are known to communicate on the Internet chat platform 4chan and also on the activism site WhyWeProtest.net, to which the unofficial spokesman Gregg Housh is connected.

But in a statement issued Monday night, WhyWeProtest clarified its relationship with Anonymous, disavowing itself from the DDoS attacks and stating that many activists who use WhyWeProtest.net do not consider themselves to be "Anons," and that the site itself is only a chat forum.

"WhyWeProtest has facilitated a number of other projects, including providing support for the Iranian activists known as the Green Wave movement and creating a forum for discussion of the recent WikiLeaks controversy," the website stated. "The recent sharp spike in our membership attests to the worldwide concern about human rights abuses and corporate or governmental control of information. We foresee a continued escalation in the frequency and magnitude of such activism across a wide array of issues."

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