By Mark Wachtler
October 8, 2013. Toledo. (ONN) Federal authorities swept up 13 more Anonymous members and indicted each of them on one count of ‘conspiracy to intentionally cause damage to a protected computer’. The alleged crimes occurred during a three-month period beginning in 2010 in defense of Wikileaks and Julian Assange. Ironically, a Federal agent was the leader of the group, causing many to accuse the government of entrapment.
OnThursday, 13 more US members of Anonymous were arrested.
The 13 cyber activists are accused of letting their computers take part in a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack on a number of computer networks of corporations that were taking part in the establishment’s attempt to shut down Wikileaks and silence Julian Assange. Wikileaks’ bank froze its account. Visa and Master Card stopped processing payments for the group. And Paypal froze the organization’s account, refusing to release Wikileaks’ funds.
All of those multi-national financial firms were targeted and victimized by a loose but united effort by tens of thousands of Wikileaks and Anonymous supporters around the world. The assault began with an attack against a file-sharing company called The Pirate Bay. Amazon and US Sen. Joseph Lieberman were two of the next victims. From there, the attacks became localized and specific. Wikilkeaks’ Swiss bank Post Finance was hit. Then, the Swedish prosecutors and lawyers attempting to prosecute Assange were brought down.
After Wikileaks’ assailants had their websites shut down, Anonymous set their web bots and DDoS programs at other anti-free speech entities. According to the FBI, targets included the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, the US Copyright Office and Bank of America.
Fortunately for the victims, little or no damage was actually done during the Operation Payback cyber attacks. The corporate sites were down for as little as a few hours. No customer information was stolen and the companies’ secure files were never breached. The hackers simply overloaded their corporate servers with imaginary traffic. According to Thursday’s indictment, all 13 of Anonymous members are from the US and 11 of them are in their 20’s. One is a 53-year-old man from Ohio and another is a 65-year-old man from New Hampshire.
Cries of entrapment
The most shocking aspect of the indictments is the fact that the Operation Payback attacks were led by a man working as an undercover FBI informant at the time. Federal agents didn’t just monitor the planning and carrying out of the attacks. Their own agent was the leader who planned the operation, gave the orders, led the attacks and badgered and coerced anyone who didn’t want to take part or wanted to quit.
As detailed in the amazingly informative book ‘We Are Anonymous’, Hector ‘Sabu’ Monsegur was the leader of Anonymous. He had already been arrested and agreed to work for the FBI to catch other Anonymous members. But they didn’t use the traditional and legitimate method of using their agent to accumulate evidence or admissions of guilt from past crimes. Instead, the FBI and their new agent went the route of the first World Trade Center bombing and actually planned, recruited and orchestrated future crimes.
That future crime the FBI planned and executed with the help of tens of thousands of unsuspecting Anonymous and Wikileaks supporters was Operation Payback. It’s strange that for a crime the FBI orchestrated and led, it took three years to accumulate evidence and bring charges against the latest 13 arrestees.
Read the Whiteout Press article, ‘Book Review - We Are Anonymous’ for details.
How guilty are they?
One of the incredible features of the book We Are Anonymous is the minute-by-minute account of the Operation Payback happenings from the five or six individual Anonymous leaders in the middle of it. The book explains that at the time, Anonymous had morphed into a global cyber resistance movement led by six extremely talented hackers.
Sabu, who’s actual name was Hector Monsegur, had risen to the number one spot due to his decades of experience in the hacking community. He was as brilliant as he was rebellious. His skill level and knowledge left the entire organization in awe and they followed him on one mission of cyber sabotage after another.
For months, Sabu’s FBI handlers ordered him to keep leading criminal acts and attacking corporate computer servers. At the time, they were trying to piece together the actual identities of the other six Anonymous leaders with Monsegur prodding them to either make mistakes or reveal personal details about themselves. In the end, half of the main Anonymous crew was from the UK while the other half was from the US.
How Operation Payback went down
For Operation Payback, the book explains that hundreds of thousands of people took part in the attacks – the vast majority without their knowledge. One of the tools Anonymous uses is a free downloadable program that when activated, it sends constant traffic to a targeted computer server. Many people who showed up at chat rooms frequented by Anonymous, as well as other mischievous non-Anonymous hackers, were victims themselves. Seeking games, music or anti-hacking protection, they were referred to other downloads that they thought were something else.
One day at the end of 2010, the FBI informant Sabu gave the order for Operation Payback to begin. Ten thousand individual Anonymous members launched their DDoS programs. While at the same moment, two or three upper-level Anonymous hackers fired-up their web bots and remotely activated the sleeper programs on hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting computers around the world.
Those computers, without their owners’ knowledge, began sending DDoS traffic to the targeted websites from all around the globe at the same time. As the book’s author points out, the tens of thousands of individual Anonymous volunteers who sent traffic to the victimized sites were like one pin prick each compared to the two Anonymous members who had web bots capable of taking control of hundreds of thousands of computers at once.
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With Whiteout Press being as intimately familiar with the happenings and participants involved as possible since we reported on the news continuously at the time, we’re going to go out on a limb and suggest that the 13 individuals indicted Thursday for the 2010 Operation Payback cyber attacks are the lowest-level activists in Anonymous. They may not have done anything more than allow the Federal agent Sabu, or one of the other leaders, to use their computers for a few minutes at some point before the cyber attacks. It’s very possible they didn’t even know their computers were participating.
Closer to the truth however, is the notion that all 13 arrested Anonymous members knowingly and willingly downloaded the free DDoS program themselves and they were just one dozen of the ten thousand others who sent computer traffic to the targeted corporations at the same time during Operation Payback. As the Anonymous members themselves have previously said, many didn’t think it was against the law to visit a corporation’s public website.
Some argued, “If I own ten computers and I use all ten to visit the same website at the same time, is that really against the law?” That’s basically all a DDoS attack is, just on a larger scale. And federal agents have answered that question saying, “Yes. If malicious intent was premeditated, it’s a crime.” That’s probably why the 13 are being charged with ‘conspiracy’ to harm computers, not actually harming them. The arrested Anonymous members will probably agree to a plea deal if offered. The reality is, these individuals probably did zero damage to the victimized sites. But Federal authorities and a Grand Jury didn’t care. The kids tried to cause harm and that’s what’s against the law.
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