WikiLeaks campaign ‘Operation Payback’ had targeted shopping site – but failure could also be due to technical problems
The online shopping site Amazon was briefly offline this evening in the UK, Germany, Italy and France and an unknown number of other countries, possibly after a denial of service attack launched by Anonymous, a loose group sympathetic to – but unconnected with – WikiLeaks.
But others suggested that the failure was due to an internal error affecting the Irish data centre that runs the site in those four countries.
In the UK the site was unreachable, and attempts to connect to the US site also failed initially, though that site rapidly came back online at about 9.30pm. The site was also reported to be down in Italy and France.
Meanwhile Mastercard’s main site was also knocked offline, according to the web stats service Netcraft.
Also today, in a separate incident, the gossip website Gawker announced that its encrypted database of 1.5 million user names and passwords used for commenting had been cracked by a “brute-force” attack. Although Gawker does not collect credit card details, the risk is that those of its users who use the same password and name on other sites could see their identities compromised.
“We’re deeply embarrassed by this breach,” said the operators of the site, part of a network of blogs owned by Nick Denton. “We should not be in the position of relying on the goodwill of the hackers who identified the weakness in our systems.”
Amazon could not be reached for comment on whether its sites’ failure was due to an attack, or simply because it was one of the busiest online shopping nights of the year in the runup to Christmas. The sites in Canada, US, China and Japan were apparently unaffected.
The monitoring service Netcraft said that “the problems seemed to affect other sites hosted with Amazon in Dublin” – suggesting it was an internal failure rather than a hacker attack.
The Anonymous group, which draws many of its members from the forums of the 4chan website, failed on Thursday in an attempt to bring down Amazon, which is the world’s largest online retailer. Disagreement within the loose-knit group meant the majority of attacks were directed at PayPal and left Amazon unscathed.
Discussion within the chat forums where the group attempts to co-ordinate its efforts suggested its members were surprised at the idea that Amazon had gone offline.
The countries affected initially suggests that internal problems, rather than an external attack, might have caused the problem. Amazon’s UK, Italian and French sites are all served from a data centre based in Ireland .
The group targeted Amazon because it had withdrawn permission for WikiLeaks to serve pages via its EC2 cloud computing service, where WikiLeaks moved its services on 29 November to avoid a “distributed denial of service” (DDoS) attack from an unknown source, apparently to prevent it publishing thousands of leaked US diplomatic cables.
On 1 December, Amazon announced it was dropping the controversial site just 24 hours after being contacted by the office of Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate’s committee on homeland security.
A statement put out later by a faction of Anonymous said attacking Amazon would be in “bad taste” at the height of the Christmas shopping season.
Twitter also this weekend suspended a number of accounts linked to “Operation Payback”, the Anonymous campaign to bring down the sites of companies that have cut ties with WikiLeaks. Biz Stone, the co-founder of Twitter, said it was a “terms of service and policy decision” to suspend the accounts.
Both Facebook and Twitter last week separately closed down a number of accounts and pages linked to Operation Payback.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange last week attempted to distance the whistleblowers’ site from the illegal cyber attacks being carried out in support of the release of thousands of confidential US diplomatic documents.
Assange expressed concern that “people have unjustly accused WikiLeaks of inspiring cyber attacks,” according to his London-based lawyer Mark Stephens.