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Paywall puts Anonymous-WikiLeaks relationship on the rocks

A rift has developed between WikiLeaks and the hacker collective Anonymous, threatening a partnership that the rebel groups have leveraged in their self-described campaigns against government secrecy and corporate malfeasance.

How broad the disillusionment within Anonymous towards WikiLeaks is hard to determine, because of the amorphous structure of the former. Nevertheless, press releases and tweets on Twitter show at least an anti-WikiLeak faction within hacker group.

"The end of an era. We unfollowed @Wikileaks and withdraw our support. It was an awesome idea, ruined by Egos. Good Bye," said a tweet from Anonymous IRC, which is believed to be part of the umbrella group.

Anonymous' disenchantment with WikiLeaks came to a head this week when the secret buster placed an overlay donation page that popped up when someone visited the site's Global Intelligence Files. The files contained more than 5 million emails from international intelligence company Stratfor. Anonymous has claimed responsibility for hacking Stratfor's site and handing the emails to WikiLeaks.

Anonymous saw the donation page as a "paywall" and an affront to their belief that information should be free. "We call on @WikiLeaks to change their current set up to force donations. #InformationWantsToBeFree," the group tweeted.

WikiLeaks initially defended the page and later removed it from the site. "A tweet, share, wait or donate campaign is not a 'paywall,'" the group tweeted back. The page appeared to stem from a 34-day fundraising campaign the group's leader, Julian Assange, announced Oct. 3 in a rambling statement railing against the U.S. government.

Anonymous, which had a bad month last month but remains a potent threat, has been a staunch defender of WikiLeaks, launching cyberattacks against its enemies and turning over documents stolen from government and corporate websites.

[Slide show: Anonymous and LulzSec - 10 greatest hits]

In 2010, Anonymous launched distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against the sites of Visa, MasterCard and Paypal after the companies refused to send customer donations to WikiLeaks.

Anonymous' anger goes beyond a donation page, however. The group believes WikiLeaks has become too focused on Assange, who is fighting extradition to Sweden to face rape charges by refusing to leave the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. Ecuador has agreed to give Assange asylum, but British authorities refuse to let him leave the country.

Assange claims he is innocent of the allegations and believes if he goes to Sweden, he will be sent to the U.S. to face charges for publishing secret documents leaked by Bradley Manning, a U.S. Army analyst arrested in 2010. Manning is currently in court martial proceedings.

In a statement posted on AnonPaste, Anonymous representatives listed some of the high-profile cyberattacks it had conducted in support of WikiLeaks and Assange, as well as the sites it has hacked to provide secret documents to the whistleblower. Anonymous claimed 14 members are either in prison or facing charges in the attacks.

"We have been worried about the direction Wikileaks is going for sometime now," the statement said. "In the past year, the focus has moved away from actual leaks and the fight for freedom of information and concentrated more and more on Julian Assange and a rabid scrounging for money."

The group went on to say that it would no longer support its onetime ally. "Anonymous turns it's back on WikiLeaks," said the statement, released Thursday. "WikiLeaks has with its actions this past 48 hours betrayed Anonymous, and thus has lost its biggest and most powerful supporter."

Read more about data privacy in CSOonline's Data Privacy section.


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