Anonymous hacktivists claimed responsibility yesterday (Aug. 20) for knocking several British government websites offline in a show of solidarity with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
According to the Twitter feed @Anon_Central, Anonymous, using distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, took down the websites of the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Work and Pensions.
Other reports said Prime Minister David Cameron's official site had been taken down as well.
CNET said the Ministry of Justice site appeared to be down yesterday evening. The ministry acknowledged "experiencing some disruptions," but said no sensitive information was ever at risk.
All four sites were easily reached this morning (Aug. 21).
Anonymous often provides its loosely affiliated supporters with free software that enables users to send thousands of requests to a website every second from a single computer. If many Anonymous supporters use the software at once, the overload of access requests causes sites to become unavailable to anyone.
An Anonymous video posted on YouTube Saturday (Aug. 18) mocks the British government for its alleged double standards between Assange's case and that of an accused child molester.
"We are very amused by your two-faced attitude. One law for one person and another law for someone else," the video said.
In June, the British government decided it would not extradite Shawn Sullivan, a dual Irish and American citizen married to an Englishwoman, to Minnesota because the American state would not guarantee that Sullivan would be spared from entering a controversial sex-offender-reform program.
Assange, an Australian citizen, faces questioning in Sweden over allegations of sexual assault. After a long legal process, the British government agreed in May to extradite him.
But in mid-June, before the extradition process had begun, Assange skipped bail and fled to the Embassy of Ecuador in London. Last week, he was officially granted political asylum by Ecuador.
Foreign Secretary William Hague has cited an obscure British law that would permit British authorities to enter the embassy and seize Assange, but many other countries argue that that would be a violation of international law.
G'day, New York
Assange and his supporters describe the Swedish case as little more than a "witch hunt" instigated by the U.S. government.
They fear that were Assange to return to Sweden, the U.S. would seek to extradite him for publishing classified U.S. government documents allegedly leaked to him by Bradley Manning, a former U.S. Army soldier now jailed on charges of violating the Espionage Act.
Several American politicians have called for Assange's trial, but he has not been charged with anything in the U.S. It is not clear whether, as a foreign citizen who has never resided in the U.S., Assange has broken any American laws.
The leaked U.S. government material included documents detailing the operations of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, video showing American warplanes attacking Iraqi civilians and secret diplomatic cables that shed light on foreign governments, including Arab leaders' fears of Iran.
One set of cables detailed the lavish private lives of the relatives of Tunisian dictator Zine el Abidine ben Ali, which helped spark a domestic uprising in January 2011 that overthrew Ben Ali and kicked off the "Arab Spring" wave of popular revolutions.