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Anonymous And LulzSec Are At It Again, and This Time, It's Legal

BY Becky Kazansky | Wednesday, July 27 2011

Lulz Security and Anonymous, better known for illegal data breaches and acts of 'hacktivism,' today called for supporters to engage in a new protest against their old nemesis PayPal — but participants in this action won't be in danger of getting arrested.

The Internet collective is encouraging people to shut down their PayPal accounts and make the action public using the hashtag #OpPayPal. In an announcement posted today, they say it's retaliation for the online payment service's apparent cooperation in a Federal Bureau of Investigation investigation that led to the arrests of 14 people who are alleged to have participated in attacks on PayPal's website in December. Anonymous was after Paypal at the time because it refused to process donations to Wikileaks, the organization responsible for acquiring and making public over 250,000 sensitive communications from the State Department as well as other secret government and corporate documents. Members vented their anger by using a custom-built program to turn their computer into a digital pain in the butt, directing request after request to PayPal's website in what's called a distributed denial of service attack. So many people participated in these attacks that access to PayPal's website was sporadic for about four days.

If the idea of using a hashtag to generate buzz around a protest sounds familiar, it should be — a recent hashtag that journalism professor and Internet pundit Jeff Jarvis helped into being became a focal point for Americans' fury over collapsing debt negotiations in Washington.

A missive posted to Pastebin today on behalf of LulzSec and Anonymous expresses outrage over the FBI arrests, which, according to an affidavit that Wired reported on yesterday, happened thanks to logs from PayPal showing the IP addresses of computers that were routing the most DDoS traffic to PayPal.

The joint release calls that DDoS attack "ethical, modern cyber operations" — as compared to other methods of DDoS, such as using a computer virus to gain control of a vast network of machines and point their traffic at an intended target. A group of like-minded folks all turning their own machines into protest devices shouldn't be “punishable with exactly the same fine and sentence” as malicious botnet attacks involving “infected computers,” the release says.

Unlike Anonymous' previous actions, this was what one astonished Twitter user called “angry people inflicting damage by legal means.” And it created a buzz.

According to Trendistic and Topsy, the Twitter traffic for the #OpPayPal hashtag peaked with 7,000 mentions at 11am EST, with tweets containing #OpPaypal comprising .12 percent of the total traffic on Twitter — the same proportion that #fuckyouwashington, the hashtag for debt-ceiling frustrations, reached at its height over the weekend. The #OpPayPal hashtag has been mentioned over 26,000 times so far in total since this morning, to the Washington protest's 96,000 and counting since Saturday, according to Topsy.com.

As for the number of PayPal accounts closed as result of the #OpPaypal protest, nobody but PayPal really knows. By noon EST, Twitter protestors were tweeting estimates in the thousands to tens of thousands, but with nothing to back up their claims. Only perhaps 3,000 people had mentioned closing a PayPal account that day, according to an analysis of data available through Topsy.com.

Many tweeting protestors watched with glee as Ebay's stock fell on NASDAQ, assuming a direct correlation between market price and the Twitter protest. One protestor tweeted, “Hehe, Anonymous just made Ebay 1 billion less valuable.”

Ebay stock began its decline at 9 a.m. — at the time the protest began — and hit its low at 10:42 a.m., around the time that the traffic for the #OpPaypal hashtag peaked, with the stock dropping nearly two percent. Though traders are known to follow Twitter for what's called 'sentiment analysis' — studies show that Twitter can forecast stock drops by as much as two days before by tracking the prevailing mood of tweeters — it would be erroneous to claim the stock fell due to the protest. NASDAQ, as a whole, reflected a similar rise and fall to Ebay's individual stock — also hovering around two percent down in early afternoon trading.

As the call to boycott PayPal spread this morning, many Twitter users reported being unable to access Paypal's online account cancellation form. A spokeswoman for Paypal, told Forbes that nobody had reported any problems, but that didn't stop protesters from sharing PayPal's toll-free phone number and adding, "Tell them #OpPayPal."