WikiLeaks cyber attacks prompt five arrests

27 Jan 2011

In coordinated dawn raids, males aged 15 to 26 were arrested by Met detectives on suspicion of offences under the Computer Misuse Act.

The five, including three teenagers, were taken to local police stations in the West Midlands, Northamptonshire, Hertfordshire, Surrey and London. If convicted, they face a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and a £5,000 fine.

The Police Central e-Crime Unit (PCeU), a specialist national squad within the Met, has been investigating the activities of Anonymous in cooperation with European enforcement agencies and the FBI since mid-December.

With its motto “we do not forgive, we do not forget”, Anonymous is an international agglomeration of internet activists, united online by their opposition to all forms of censorship. It claims to have no formal hierarchy and originally emerged from an anarchic web message board called 4chan.org.

Members now organise their campaigns via IRC, a formerly-popular chat room system now most used in Russia and often frequented by hackers and cyber criminals.

The collective’s weapon is Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), a type of cyber attack which uses a network of computers to bombard the target website with thousands of requests for data, overloading it and effectively forcing it offline. It requires only basic technical skill to participate in such an onslaught.

After service providers abandoned Wikileaks, Anonymous members used their own DDoS software – dubbed the “Low-Orbit Ion Cannon” – to launch “Operation Avenge Assange”. The rapid-fire attacks in early December briefly disrupted access to the Mastercard, PayPal and Visa websites, but Amazon’s robust infrastructure withstood the barrage.

According to independent security experts, catching some of the culprits wwas likely to be simple. Detailed analysis of the DDoS software revealed it gave the attackers virtually no protection against attempts to trace them, and two teenagers were soon arrested in the Netherlands.

“The current attack technique can be therefore be compared to overwhelming someone with letters, but putting your real home address at the back of the envelope,” wrote computer scientists at the University of Twente, who analysed the Low-Orbit Ion Cannon.

Anonymous first came to PCeU’s attention months before its pro-WikiLeaks attacks. In September, it launched a DDoS campaign against organisations associated with copyright enforcement online under the banner “Operation Payback”.

Among others, it targeted the BPI, the recording industry trade association, and ACS:Law, a firm of solicitors that controversially demanded hundreds of pounds in damages from internet users it accused of unlawfully sharing movies and video games. On Monday, Andrew Crossley, ACS:Law’s founder, told a court in London he had been forced to shut down the firm partly as a result of Anonymous’ attacks.

Since the New Year, Anonymous has used its digital firepower to support the ongoing wave of street protest against Arab governments. It has attacked official websites, beginning with those of the ousted Tunisian regime, citing restrictions on social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter.

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