If Some WikiLeaks Fans Can Knock Out MasterCard’s and Visa’s Sites, What Could Terrorists Do?

Written by Evan Schuman
December 8th, 2010

MasterCard’s and Visa’s sites were partially knocked out Wednesday (Dec. 8), ostensibly by aggrieved supporters of WikiLeaks, which MasterCard recently cut off from its network. MasterCard made no reference to a denial-of-service attack, only indicating that it was “experiencing heavy traffic on its external corporate Web site— We are working to restore normal speed of service.” It then added: “There is no impact whatsoever on our cardholders’ ability to use their cards for secure transactions.” A later MasterCard statement said: “Our core processing capabilities have not been compromised and cardholder account data has not been placed at risk. While we have seen limited interruption in some Web-based services, cardholders can continue to use their cards for secure transactions globally.”

Hmmmm. “Limited interruption in some Web-based services?” When MasterCard said that its “core processing capabilities have not been compromised,” is that indicating other processing capabilities were affected? If neither MasterCard nor Visa can fully protect it site against a highly predictable consumer attack, how would the sites fare under a full-scale well-financed terrorist hit? Both brands make much of their highly robust systems. Although there’s no initial reason to suspect that the payment-processing network itself was impacted, this attack certainly doesn’t fill retailers with abundant confidence.


5 Comments | Read If Some WikiLeaks Fans Can Knock Out MasterCard’s and Visa’s Sites, What Could Terrorists Do?

  1. Tom Mahoney Says:

    It’s my understanding that these were DDS attacks rather than hacks in to the system. If that’s the case, other services would not have a problem. One would hope that Visa and MC don’t put card data on the out-facing network!

  2. A Reader Says:

    It’s almost never a good idea to cater to current events that aren’t directly impacting you. This is especially true as they were essentially “taking the law into their own hands.” There are always unintended consequences, regardless of your personal beliefs in the matter.

    Had MasterCard waited for a court order, or an official public request from a government authority, there would have been little outcry. Now MasterCard is going to be scrutinized mercilessly and bombed with other complaints, such as why they supposedly continue to process payments on behalf of the Klan or other controversial or unsavory groups.

  3. AUtlaw Says:

    I’m with “A Reader”. When did Mastercard set itself up as the moral arbitrator? personally I have real concerns about what wikileaks has done. However, EVERYONE has concerns about organisations that promote hate crimes, racism etc, and MOST PEOPLE have concerns about tabacco companies and arms dealers and yet Mastercard happily process their payments.

  4. Steve Sommers Says:

    Your heading is slightly incorrect in to these “fans” are terrorists. I reference

    1. to fill or overcome with terror.
    2. to dominate or coerce by intimidation.
    3. to produce widespread fear by acts of violence, as bombings.

    It could be argued that definition #1 applies. Definition #2 definitely applies; these are terrorists. There might be a silver lining though in that law enforcement agencies may start looking at hackers as the criminals they really are.

  5. Evan Schuman Says:

    Editor’s Note: The headline for that item meant the opposite of how you interpreted. It referred to those hackers who attacked the sites as “Wikileaks fans” and when it said “terrorists,” it meant of the Al Qaeda variety.


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