SAN FRANCISCO – Hackers who launched a massive online attack against the Church of Scientology are now turning to real-world protests to draw attention to what they call a "vast moneymaking scheme under the guise of 'religion."'
The loosely organized group of hackers, who meet up and coordinate attacks through Internet Relay Chat channels, have set Feb. 10 for a wave of protests at Scientology locations worldwide.
In anonymous postings on the group's Web site, organizers said they are trying to raise awareness about the threats to free speech posed by the church's lawyers, who, the group claims, aggressively try to silence critics by threatening lawsuits. The church said its lawyers follow standard procedures for protecting copyrighted materials.
The first wave of attacks began earlier this month with hackers bombarding the church's Web site with traffic to cripple its servers. The church appears to have fortified its Web site since then, deploying technology that helps protect against so-called denial-of-service attacks.
Pranksters also hammered the church's telephone network with phony phone calls and mountains of spam faxes and e-mails.
However, the attacks went off-course this week.
A married couple in Stockton received dozens of threatening phone calls after their home phone number, address and the wife's Social Security Number were posted online by hackers who mistook them for pro-Scientology hackers. They received an apologetic phone call from one of the pranksters after the foul-up was discovered.
The online assault was triggered by the sudden disappearance from YouTube of a video interview featuring celebrity Scientologist Tom Cruise, in which he discusses his beliefs and reasons for being a Scientologist.
Critics mocked the interview savagely in blogs. The church's lawyers intervened and had the video removed for copyright infringement.
The church said in a statement that it did not threaten Web sites or media outlets with lawsuits for posting the Cruise video, adding that it is "unquestionably a stolen and pirated video placed on the Internet in an out-of-context manner for the purpose of causing controversy."