Spanish police today said they have arrested three key members of Anonymous – a group of hacker-activists involved in denial-of-service computer attacks on government and corporate websites as well as the Sony PlayStation online store.
The trio were described by police as just one cell of the larger, loosely affiliated international group Anonymous, which gained notoriety last fall for launching computer attacks on Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, and others that had cut off services to WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.
"Hacktivists" claim not to be criminals, but online activists who launch so-called distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks to clog the websites of offending businesses. The attacks cause computers they control to make millions of virtual requests for information simultaneously. In other instances, criminals have also used DDoS attacks to extort protection money in exchange for refraining from launching such attacks.
In Spain, the three arrests were the culmination of a lengthy investigation that began after the group allegedly bombarded a government culture ministry website in December. That led to Spanish police monitoring of Anonymous-affiliated websites and analysis of more than two million lines of content in log chats and web pages, the technology investigation unit of the national police force said in a statement.
"Anonymous is a network with a common idea, but it has loads of cells around the world. Using chats they agree to stage denial-of-service attacks on any page of any company or organization anywhere in the world," Manuel Vazquez, chief of the police's high-tech crime unit told reporters at a news conference.
Police say one of those arrested operated a computer server from an apartment in Gijon, Spain, where the group orchestrated computer attacks against government, bank, and other business sites – including the Sony Playstation Store. The trio were not part of the recent theft of credit card information belonging to millions of PlayStation Network users, however, the Associated Press quotes Mr. Vazquez as saying.
The Spanish group is alleged to have conducted attacks on two large Spanish banks, the Italian energy company Enel, and sites belonging to the governments of Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Iran, Chile, Colombia, and New Zealand. In May, the group attacked the website of the Central Electoral Board in protest of a law that included penalties for online crime and later also attacked the websites of the Catalan police, police say.
Police also tweeted screenshots of computer logs that appeared to show efforts to target Spanish police websites and the electoral board with DDoS attacks. In one house, police found volumes of software specifically designed to create malware that infects computers, as well as software to access and target the "Low Orbit Ion Cannon" – a computer botnet used to launch denial-of-service attacks.
To try to conceal their activities, the Spanish group used what police described as highly sophisticated encryption techniques in their communications that made it virtually impossible to intercept and identify them. Two of those arrested had no Internet connection at all, but connected by breaking into other people's wireless networks.
Other countries have pursued members of Anonymous. British police in January arrested five males, including three teenagers, for allegedly participating in Anonymous-based DDoS attacks. Dutch police arrested two people in December. In the US, Federal Bureau of Investigations have searched dozens of homes, but so far have made no arrests.