13 from Hacktivist Collective Anonymous face Federal Indictments

American prosecutors brought charges against 13 people for allegedly helping the hacker group Anonymous carry out attacks against numerous websites

The Internet collective Anonymous has become synonymous with Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks, which occur when a collective of computer hackers bombard a targeted website with multiple requests for information. The website can’t handle all the requests so it crashes making it unavailable for users. Last year Anonymous became the digital thorn in law enforcement’s side when it launched Operation Payback - highly publicized attacks against not only American government agency sites, but corporate entities who had behaved in a perceived less-than-ideal-corporate-socially-responsible way. The FBI struck back earlier this year when it arrested 13 alleged members of the group and charged them all with conspiring to attack computer networks to their detriment. Operation Payback went after organizations that sought stricter copyright enforcement measures to be brought to bear against those who would illegally infringe, downloading files from sites like The Pirate Bay. In order to enforce these laws, the Motion Picture Association of America would outsource enforcement duties to companies like Aiplex Software. This includes forcibly shutting down websites that won’t comply by using a denial of service attack. In 2010, the managing director of Aiplex confirmed that Hollywood studios, including 20th Century Fox, had hired the company.After Pirate Bay was attacked, Operation Payback was launched by members of Anonymous against websites of the entertainment industry, including the MPAA using the DDOS method. A grand jury indictment of the 13 people was filed in US district court in Alexandria, Virginia, charging them with conspiracy to intentionally cause damage to protected computers as part of this Operation.

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The hacker collective selected those targets because they opposed its "stated philosophy of making all information free for all, including information protected by copyright laws or national security considerations," according to the indictment filed in federal court in Virginia.For example, one alleged member of Anonymous used an online flyer to rally others to attack the website of the Motion Picture Association of America: "We target the bastard group that has thus far led this charge against our websites, like The Pirate Bay. We target MPAA.ORG!" the flier said, according to the indictment."This will be a calm, co-ordinated display of blood. We will not be merciful," said one set of instructions for the attacks quoted in the indictment. Other websites targeted were those of the Library of Congress, Bank of America, Visa and MasterCard, the Justice Department said. All are from the U.S. and in their 20s with the exception of Geoffrey Kenneth Commander, a 65-year-old man from Hancock, New Hampshire, and Dennis Owen Collins, a man from Toledo, Ohio born in 1960.The hacker group then launched attacks on the website of PostFinance, Swiss payments, e-finance, and electronic account management organization, the Swedish prosecutor's office and a Swedish law firm. This was followed by an attack on the website of MasterCard, which cost the payment firm at least US$5,000 in losses during a one-year period, according to the indictment. It is thought that this was in retaliation for refusing Wikileaks payments from willing donors. Anonymous members have become increasingly daring in their attacks, which has led to more aggressive attention from law enforcement. Jeremy Hammond, known online as "Anarchaos," pleaded guilty on May 28 to violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for his part in breaking into the network of geopolitical analysis company Stratfor Global Intelligence Service.Hammond said he participated in the hack on behalf of Anonymous and its subgroup LulzSec. "I did this because I believe people have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors," he said in a statement posted on his website. "I did what I believe is right. Mercedes Haefer, also known by "No," is part of 'Paypal 14,' a group of hackers arrested by the FBI in 2011 for allegedly participating in a cyberattack against PayPal.Haefer and the other members of Paypal 14 have remained in legal limbo for two years now. In May, they began negotiations for a settlement that could keep them out of prison.The group is expected to appear in a Californian Federal court later this month.