Hacktivists in the Anonymous collective have taken credit for a series of attacks in the last 24 hours against United Kingdom government sites in protest of efforts to extradite WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange.
Dubbed Operation Free Assange, the campaign of distributed denial-of-service attacks targeted a number of sites, including the sites for Britain's Ministry of Justice, Home Office and the Department for Work and Pensions. Anonymous is also being credited with attacking a Swedish fitness site and posting a message in support of Assange.
All the sites are now functioning. According to reports, the Home Office said protestors were only able to cause "very minor interruption" to their Website and that no other systems were affected. The Ministry of Justice shared similar sentiments, stating that only its Website was attacked and that no data had been compromised.
Assange, who has been trying to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sexual assault, was granted asylum last week by the Ecuadorian government after months of staying at the Ecuadorian embassy in the United Kingdom. Despite the ruling, the British government has stated that it has no plans to allow Assange to leave the country for Ecuador.
"Under our law, with Mr. Assange having exhausted all options of appeal, the British authorities are under a binding obligation to extradite him to Sweden," said British Foreign Secretary William Hague in a statement. "We must carry out that obligation, and of course we fully intend to do so."
Assange's supporters claim the charges against him are a political retaliation for WikiLeaks involvement in publishing sensitive documents, such as the U.S. diplomatic cables released in 2010 and the more recent leak of emails to and from Syrian political figures earlier this year. However, Hague said that the U.K.'s decision to pursue extradition is "not about Mr. Assange's activities at WikiLeaks or the attitude of the United States of America."
The latest DDoS attacks are part of a history of cyber-protestâboth pro and conâthat has surrounded WikiLeaks for the past several years. Earlier this month, WikiLeaks itself was hit by a DDoS by a group calling itself 'Anti Leaks.'
"The attacks against the U.K. government highlight how ideologically motivated DDoS attacks are an ever increasing issue," noted Arbor Networks' solutions architect Darren Anstee.
"It is therefore extremely important that organizations take best practice defensive steps to ensure they are adequately protected if, or more likely when, they become the target of a DDoS attack," he continued.
"Organizations should minimize their threat surface as much as possible using their network infrastructure to control the traffic reaching their service infrastructure, and they should ensure that they have well-documented, and tested, incident handling processes. And, ideally, they should deploy DDoS protection solutions and services which are capable of protecting them from both volumetric and stealthy application layer attacks," said Anstee.