Will Anonymous target Facebook next?

The cyberwar unleashed by WikiLeaks is spreading far and wide. Will Facebook join Amazon, Paypal, and Visa among its victims?

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Social media has been sucked into the cyberwar that’s raging between now between the pro- and anti-WikiLeaks forces on the Net.

The collective group “Anonymous” – which first arose from the lolcats/rickrolling world of 4chan to take on the Church of Scientology nearly three years ago – has become the self-anointed guardian of WikiLeaks. It is avenging alleged wrongs done to WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange after the site began publishing classified US State Department cables (you may have read a thing or two about that lately – just a guess), using a rolling series of distributed denial of service attacks (DDOS’s) against WikiLeaks’ “enemies.” And its relying heavily on social media tools like Facebook and Twitter to do it.

So far, the collective forces of Anonymous have taken down the PayPal blog (though not PayPal itself), the US Senate Web directory, the site for Julian Assange’s Swiss bank, the site for the Swedish prosecutors who are bringing charges against Assange for alleged sexual assault, and the home pages of Visa and MasterCard, who along with PayPal stopped processing donations to WikiLeaks as a result of its actions.

[ See also: The 10 biggest mistakes people make on Facebook ]

The Anons are doing it via a free software applet called the Low Orbiting Ion Cannon (LOIC), which be installed on any system and used to overwhelm the servers of any site unlucky to find itself in their crosshairs. Users simply plug a port number and URL into the LOIC screen and press the “Fire!” button; sites are flooded with requests for pages that don’t exist, generating a cascade of error responses that overloads the site’s capacity.

According to the geeks at the SANS Internet Storm Center, Twitter is an essential part of the Anonymous attack plan. In one version of LOIC, users plug in the name of a Twitter account controlled by Anonymous, which then lets that account holder direct the attack at whatever site happens to the target. In other versions, users themselves direct the attack, using instructions delivered via Twitter. 

As I write this, for example, @Op_Payback is spewing out instructions to would-be Net vigilantes like:

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