Anonymous shutters government, music industry sites

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In a reprisal for the government's takedown of the popular file-sharing website MegaUpload.com, and charging its founders with online piracy, the vigilante hacker group Anonymous has apparently shuttered the websites of Universal Music, the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ), the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

The group took credit for the action on its Twitter feed, stating: "The government takes down Megaupload? 15 minutes later Anonymous takes down government and record label sites."

On Pastebin, a favored outlet for its messages, Anonymous posted: "We Anonymous are launching our largest attack ever on government and music industry sites. Lulz. The FBI didn't think they would get away with this did they? They should have expected us."

The targeted sites were likely hit with a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. In these type of attacks, a web server's bandwidth is inundated with internet traffic in an attempt to, in effect, overload circuits and render it offline. IT security firm Sophos stated in a release on Friday that by simply clicking on Anonymous's Twitter links, users will become a participant in the DDoS attack, flooding the targeted sites with traffic.

MegaUpload, now dark, claimed to have in excess of 150 million registered users.

The charge against Megaupload Limited and a sister company Vestor Limited, according to a joint statement issued by the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI, is that the companies earned "more than $175 million in criminal proceeds" while inflicting "more than half a billion dollars in harm to copyright owners" through the piracy of "numerous types of copyrighted works."

Similar to other controversial file-sharing sites, like Pirate Bay and BitTorrent, Megaupload enabled its members to upload files, which could then be accessed and downloaded by others. In this way, large files, such as music and movies, could be distributed outside of the copyright holder's channels.

The DoJ, in collaboration with authorities in New Zealand, arrested four employees of Megaupload. Its founder Kim Dotcom, 37, also known as Kim Schmitz, and three associates faced charges in New Zealand court on Thursday. They face extradition to the United States. Three other partners are yet to be apprehended. Schmitz claimed his site abided by copyright guidance and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), removing material per request.

Anonymous also tweeted out a message referring to the Stop Online Piracy Act, legislation making its way through Congress: "Megaupload was taken down w/out SOPA being law. Now imagine what will happen if it passes. The Internet as we know it will end. FIGHT BACK."

SOPA is supported by the Hollywood establishment and the recording industry, which claim internet piracy is costing them millions in profits. If passed, the law would allow authorities to take down internet service providers suspected of hosting pirated content. Those opposed to the measure fear that websites could be censored, even shuttered, without due process.

"In the past, Anonymous has encouraged supporters to install a program called LOIC, which allows computers to join in an attack on a particular website, blasting it with unwanted traffic," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos in a statement. "This change in tactic from Anonymous, which allows attacks to be launched by simply clicking on a link, means that internet users need to be extremely careful when clicking on unknown URLs or they could unwittingly be joining this latest zombie army."

Cluley's claim is verified by a blog post on the Imperva website, which found a spike in the use of LOIC coinciding with the latest Anonymous campaign.

Denial-of-service-attacks are illegal, Cluley said, adding that even unwary participants could be implicated and sentenced to jail. "Make sure you always trust the links you click on, even if they're shared by a friend on social networking sites."

As of Friday, 2 p.m. EST, the websites of the MPAA, RIAA, and the DoJ are back online. Universal Music's site is still down.

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