UK government website disrupted by hacker attack

LONDON, April 8 Sun Apr 8, 2012 9:49am EDT

LONDON, April 8 (Reuters) - A British government website was disrupted on Sunday by a suspected attack by activist hacker group Anonymous, whose previous high-profile targets have included the Vatican.

The website of Britain's Home Office, or interior ministry, (homeoffice.gov.uk) was out of action for several hours overnight and problems continued on Sunday, with visitors finding the message "page not found".

"We are aware of the online protests," a Home Office spokeswoman said, declining further comment.

Twitter messages purporting to be from Anonymous said the group was behind the distributed denial-of-service attack, in which hackers flood a website with requests for information, making it unavailable to legitimate users.

The messages warned there would be further attacks on British government websites every Saturday.

Twitter messages suggested a variety of motives for the attack, including the British government's plans to boost digital surveillance powers and Britain's extradition treaty with the United States.

Campaigners argue the extradition rules are lopsided in Washington's favour. The most high-profile case is that of British computer hacker Gary McKinnon, who was arrested in 2002 after allegedly hacking into U.S. security systems including the Pentagon and who is still fighting extradition.

Government minister Grant Shapps said the attack on the Home Office website was "concerning". The opposition Labour Party's business spokesman, Chuka Umunna, also expressed worry, telling the BBC that "we're talking about community safety issues here".

Anonymous and fellow group LulzSec have carried out a number of high-profile hacking actions against companies and institutions including the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Britain's Serious Organised Crime Agency, Japan's Sony Corp and Mexican government websites.

The Italian branch of Anonymous took down the Vatican's website in March, while in February, British police said they were investigating reports that Anonymous had hacked into a conference call between FBI agents and London detectives to discuss action they were taking against hacking. (Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)