A man once famously described the internet as "a series of tubes," a comment that was widely derided for its fundamental misunderstanding of the system. In reality, the internet is more like a box, and inside that box is a cat named Anonymous, existing in a quantum state of both great hero and wicked villain until an observer looks inside and is immediately driven insane by what he sees. That's the best explanation I can come up with, anyway, for the spectacle of Anonymous launching an "infowar" against PayPal, the Swiss bank PostFinance and other operations who have hung Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange, out to dry.
It's been a rough ride for Assange, whose Wikileaks has been making headlines for exposing thousands of confidential diplomatic communiques and, prior to that, some very shocking revelations about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His personal and business finances have been frozen, Wikileaks was effectively (if temporarily) pushed off the net, and journalists and politicians alike - from North America, mind you, not Somalia or Sudan - have actually called for his murder. And now, riding in to its own particular brand of rescue, comes Anonymous.
The Operation: Payback-style attack against PayPal was fairly ineffective, according to Ars Technica, which noted that the PayPal blog was taken down while the main site went untouched. PostFinance, on the other hand, got clobbered real good and was offline for at least 16 hours, although it appears to be back now. The website of the Swedish prosecutors' office, which is currently pursuing a sexual misconduct case against Assange, was also taken down, although it too appears to be back.
"While we don't have much of an affiliation with WikiLeaks, we fight for the same reasons," Anonymous wrote on the Operation: Payback website. "We want transparency and we counter censorship. The attempts to silence WikiLeaks are long strides closer to a world where we cannot say what we think and are unable to express our opinions and ideas. We cannot let this happen."
Interestingly, anonops.com itself came under a DDoS attack which took it offline briefly, although the Low-Orbit Ion Cannons are apparently still firing.
For now, Assange remains in a U.K. jail after surrendering to police and being denied bail, while Wikileaks survives on various mirror sites and the companies that have attempted to sever its online and financial ties continue to claim that they did so not because of political pressure but because of terms of service violations or technical issues. It's a claim that doesn't seem likely to satisfy Anonymous' thirst for cause-driven mayhem.