The hacktivist group Anonymous launched its "largest attack ever" Thursday, claiming credit for a coordinated takedown of websites managed by the Department of Justice and organizations supporting controversial antipiracy legislation.
The attack, dubbed “Operation Payback,” came in response to Thursday's news that the Justice Department had shut down massive file-sharing site Megaupload. The attack also temporarily brought down the websites of the Recording Industry of America, the Motion Picture Association of America and Universal Music, among others, in retaliation for their support of antipiracy legislation in Congress, known as SOPA and PIPA.
On Thursday, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department said the web server hosting justice.gov “is currently experiencing a significant increase in activity, resulting in a degradation in service."
“The Department is working to ensure the website is available while we investigate the origins of this activity, which is being treated as a malicious act until we can fully identify the root cause of the disruption,” the spokeswoman said.
Anonymous also took credit Thursday night for taking offline the website of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI.gov.
The takedown of Megaupload, and the arrests of its CEO and several execs, sent shockwaves through the online community Thursday. An indictment accused the company, which is one of the world's most popular file-sharing sites, of costing copyright holders at least $500 million in lost revenue.
"The fact is that the vast majority of Mega's Internet traffic is legitimate, and we are here to stay. If the content industry would like to take advantage of our popularity, we are happy to enter into a dialogue. We have some good ideas. Please get in touch," read a statement posted on Megaupload before the site was taken offline, according to the AP.
"The raid on Megaupload Thursday proved that the feds don’t need SOPA or its sister legislation, PIPA, in order to pose a blow to the Web," Anonymous said in a statement posted to its website.
"In a world where govts [sic] just keep on pushing their malicious agendas, we're no longer ready to play nice. We do not forgive!" said a post from one of Anonymous' Twitter handles.
The statement also said that Anonymous was planning another attack - this time on the White House's website, whitehouse.gov. One Anonymous operative, Barrett Brown, told the Russian news service RT on Thursday that more attacks were coming and the group plans to “damage campaign-raising abilities of remaining Democrats who support SOPA.”
The websites of the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry of America, who were both vocal supporters of antipiracy legislation, were both back online by 8 p.m. But the website of Universal Music, which also supported the legislation, was still down Thursday night, with a message: “The Site is under maintenance. Please expect it to be back shortly.” Anonymous also took credit for bringing down the website of Warner Music Group on Thursday.
The antipiracy bills, known as SOPA and PIPA, sparked widespread online protests on Wednesday because of provisions that would make it easier for authorities to go after websites with pirated content. Opponents say the proposals limit free speech, stifle innovation and undermine the architecture of the web. On Wednesday, several major websites, led by Wikipedia, blacked out or blanketed their pages with information about the legislation.
Thursday’s retaliation by Anonymous came in the form of a “denial of service” attack, a digital protest technique used often by Anonymous to bring down websites of organizations it disagrees with by overloading their servers with traffic, causing their sites to crash. The attacks on Thursday had more than 5,600 participants, according to the Russian news service RT.
But not all of them may have been aware of what they were doing. According to Gawker, Anonymous ratcheted up the force of its attack by distributing a link on Twitter and in chat rooms that tricks Internet users into loading a program that attacks websites. Once users click on the link, they download a program, known as a Low Orbit Ion Cannon, that overloads websites with traffic, causing them to crash, Gawker reported.
According to other reports, Anonymous’ attack also included the websites of the US Copyright Office and the site for BMI, or Broadcast Music, Inc., which collects license fees from businesses that use music and distributes them as royalties to songwriters.