Anonymous Hacking Group Changing Pro-WikiLeaks Campaign

Members of the loosely organized hacking group Anonymous might be changing their attack methods in their campaign in support of WikiLeaks.

Over the last month, Anonymous has come under public scrutiny for launching a series of denial of service attacks that have shut down the Web sites of organizations that have either discontinued association with or services for WikiLeaks. The commercial boycotts followed after WikiLeaks published installments of 250,000 diplomatic cables leaked to the site by an insider.

Some of Anonymous' most notable targets have included MasterCard, PostFinance and PayPal, which were pummeled with DDoS attacks in a concerted effort dubbed Operation Payback.

DDoS attacks are relatively low-tech attack methods, occurring when a network is overwhelmed with more requests than it can handle, causing the system to effectively shut down.

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The hacking group Anonymous has admitted to deploying a specific DDoS tool, called the Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC), which allows users to voluntarily attach their machines to a botnet in order to bombard a chosen site with traffic and shut it down. The botnet then launches DDoS attacks by flooding a site with more traffic than it can handle.

Meanwhile, a recent technological development enables users to launch DDoS attacks via their mobile devices, such as an iPad or an iPhone, according to Panda Security. Users only have to visit a Web page that converts the browser into a pocket LOIC, which subsequently delivers DDoS packets from the device.

However, lately, the group has said that it is looking to go even more low-tech, according to the BBC, with more grassroots -- and possibly legal -- efforts to forward information in support of WikiLeaks.

Anonymous member Phill Midwinter told BBC News, "We don't want to annoy or make life difficult for internet users."

Subsequently, the new campaign, so-called Operation Paperstorm, galvanized volunteers to print pro-Wikileaks posters and post them all over towns and cities. The effort was one of about 10 initiatives that enabled Anonymous to raise awareness about WikiLeaks and U.S. Army intelligence specialist Bradley Manning, accused of leaking the documents, Midwinter said.

"They're examples of how we can use crowd-sourcing to get our message across, without doing anything illegal," he said.

But while some members are taking the campaign down a notch, others are focusing on increasingly high-tech attacks, using open-source methods to incrementally improve LOIC software. Thus far, several programmers have posted improved versions of LOIC on Geeknet's website, which ultimately could lead to a more sophisticated tool.

Next: Report Reveals LOIC Traceable

Meanwhile, the group's change of approach follows a recent report, issued by researchers at the Netherlands-based University of Twente, revealing that the Anonymous LOIC tool is easily traceable.

The report found that the tool doesn't take any measures to obfuscate the attack's origins, indicating that the IP address of the attacker is included in the packets sent to victims.

"The simplicity of the attack came to a surprise, since techniques are already known to obfuscate attack traffic," the report said. "Basically, for the average user of the LOIC tool, it is like he was asked to send a menace letter with a return address."