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Anonymous launches largest-ever attack in defence of Megaupload

Will Anonymous’s latest efforts have any lasting effect? Warner Bros. Pictures

The largest-ever cyber attack by hacker collective Anonymous has brought down the websites of several large organisations, including the US Department of Justice and the FBI.

The attacks started early this morning (AEST) and appear to be in retaliation for the forced shut-down overnight of popular file-sharing website, Megaupload.

Megaupload allowed users to upload and share large files – including films and TV shows – but was shut down last night by the US Department of Justice for allowing copyright infringement by its more than 50 million daily visitors.

In a joint statement with the FBI, the Department of Justice described their action against Megaupload as “among the largest criminal copyright cases ever brought by the United States”.

The websites of both the Department of Justice and the FBI were taken down this morning in a series of rolling attacks that has also claimed the sites of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Warner Music Group, Universal Music and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). (At the time of publishing, some of these sites were still down, while others had been restored.)

While it was the Megaupload shut-down that prompted Anonymous to act, the attacks also appear to be in protest against organisations – including the RIAA and MPAA – who supported the Stop Online Piracy Act bills, currently being discussed in US Congress.

But according to Dr Mark Gregory, Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University, the attacks by Anonymous are misguided and likely to do more harm than good to the anti-SOPA camp.

“People like [internet founder] Tim Berners-Lee argue that their idea of the internet is a place where people can interact and do so with freedom. Every time a group like Anonymous gets involved, people cringe because it’s self-defeating – these attacks are partly what these changes [the introduction of SOPA] are meant to reduce: the lawlessness of the internet.”

The attacks are being perpetrated by a collective of more than 5,000 internet users, apparently using more than 27,000 computers to set up a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.

In a DDoS attack, many users attempt to access the same website at the same time, hoping to crash the target website under the increased traffic load. But according to Dr Mark Gregory, such attacks are unlikely to cause any lasting damage.

“The point of a distributed denial of service attack is that it’s going to work for a short period of time until the website’s defences kick in; defences such as blocking the IP address ranges where the attacks are coming from”, Dr Gregory said.

“I imagine they [the Deparment of Justice, the FBI etc.] are more worried by being seen to be the target of the attack – that they’re the bad guys – than they are of the technical aspects of the attack.”

The Megaupload shutdown comes only a day after Wikipedia, reddit and several other websites staged a voluntary blackout to protest against the SOPA bills.

It’s a fact not lost on Anonymous who, in a tweet from the @YourAnonNews account this morning, said:

“Let’s just say, for #SOPA supporters their #SOPAblackout is today. #Anonymous”

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