A loosely aligned group of hackers and web activists has declared war on the "enemies" of WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange. The group Anonymous, an offshoot of the infamous 4chan message board, is directing the cyber-attacks, and their "Operation Payback" has so far temporarily taken down the websites of Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, the Swiss bank PostFinance, and Assange's Swedish prosecutor. Potential next targets: Twitter and Facebook, which froze Anonymous' accounts Wednesday. Just how far will this "cyber-war" go? (Watch an MSNBC report about the online effort)

The war will get only nastier: These "Internet vigilantes" aren't just defending WikiLeaks, says Ryan Singel in Wired. They see this as a proxy war for "freedom on the Net in general," and they'll use "any means possible, however dubious," to win. The 4chan crowd has waged similar campaigns, but its "unprecedented reaction" to this "naked" use of corporate power against WikiLeaks signals that Operation Payback "may not be easily brought to heel."
"Vigilantes take offensive in WikiLeaks censorship battle"

The counterattacks have begun: "Operation Payback is facing a little payback of its own," says Ryan Tate in Gawker. And not just from Facebook and Twitter: The Feds and antagonistic hackers have shut down some sites coordinating the attacks. Operation Payback is also generating a "nasty PR backlash" — these "symbolic wins" over enemy websites "might be cathartic," but they make WikiLeaks look even more "illicit."
"Noose closes around pro-WikiLeaks vigilantes"

Even hacktivists observe some boundaries: These attacks show the "growing reach" and power of these "self-described 'cyber-anarchists,'" as well as their support for Assange, say John F. Burns and Ravi Somaiya in The New York Times. But their crusade may have limits. There has been talk of cyber-attacking the two Swedish women accusing Assange of sex offenses, admits hacktivist Gregg Housh, but "a lot of people don't want to be involved [with that type of attack]."
"Hackers attack those seen as WikiLeaks enemies"