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Interpol arrests Anonymous hackers: Do they warrant the attention?

Anonymous hackers were allegedly preparing to shut down Chilean and Colombian government websites. But these attacks are like digital graffiti.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / February 29, 2012

A protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, symbolic of the hacktivist group 'Anonymous,' takes part in a protest in central Brussels in January.

Yves Herman/Reuters

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Yesterday, police coordinating through Interpol conducted a sweep of arrests in Europe and South America of 25 suspected hackers from the group Anonymous. The hackers were allegedly preparing to deface and to launch “denial of service” attacks against key government websites, such as Colombia’s Ministry of Defense and presidential website, Chile’s electric company Endesa, and Chile’s national library. If found guilty, the accused hackers could face sentences of 541 days to five years in prison.

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In retaliation, hackers briefly shut down the website of Interpol itself. Somewhere out there, a girl with a dragon tattoo is smiling, lopsidedly.

It all sounds very dramatic, and past website attacks by the Anonymous collective have been effective at getting a rather clever or satirical point across about what they see as the wrong-headedness of government policies.

But cyber-attacks of this sort against government websites are only a slightly higher-tech version of spray-paint attacks against a high-school wall. One wonders why Anonymous, or Interpol, even bothered.

Compared with the cyber-warfare attack against Iran’s nuclear program – remember the 2010 Stuxnet computer virus which effectively destroyed one-fifth of Iran's uranium-enrichment centrifuges and delayed its nuclear program? – defacing a website is rather tame. If hackers are peeved enough at the Chilean or Colombian governments to declare “war,” then this is of the “war is heck” variety.

The issues that hacker activists, or hactivists, focus on are serious ones. When WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange published hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables last year, he did so to protest against excesses of the US government during the ongoing "war against terror." Mr. Assange – who faces allegations of sexual assault in Sweden – has since turned his sights onto a private website Stratfor, a subscription-based news service that focuses on terrorism and security issues. (Editor's note: An earlier version of this story referred to "charges" against Assange. He has not been charged.)

When hackers broke into the website of the Boston Police Department in early February, posting a video of KRS-One’s rap video “Sound of Da Police,” they were making a satirical point about supposed police brutality in the breakup of the Occupy Boston campsite last year.

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