They aren’t so anonymous anymore. Thirteen defendants pled guilty in federal court in San Jose to charges related to their involvement in the cyber-attack of PayPal’s Web site as part of the group Anonymous. One of the defendants also pled guilty to the charges arising from a separate cyberattack on the Web site of Santa Cruz County.
The defendants admitted to carrying out a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) cyberattack against PayPal in December 2010. The hackers used software tools that work to damage a computer network’s ability to function by flooding it with useless commands and information, thus, denying service to legitimate users.
A group calling itself Anonymous claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying they conducted the cyber hit in protest of the companies’ and organizations’ actions. Anonymous made the software tools available as a free download on the Internet. The victims included major U.S. companies across several industries.
The Wikileaks-PayPal Scandal
Here’s the backstory: In late November 2010 WikiLeaks released a large number of classified U.S. State Department cables on its Web site. Citing violations of the PayPal terms of service, and in response to WikiLeaks’ release of the classified cables, PayPal suspended WikiLeaks’ accounts such that WikiLeaks could no longer receive donations via PayPal. WikiLeaks’ Web site declared that PayPal’s action “tried to economically strangle WikiLeaks.”
The plea agreements reveal that, in retribution for PayPal’s termination of WikiLeaks’ donation account, Anonymous coordinated and executed DDoS attacks against PayPal’s computer. Anonymous referred to these coordinated attacks on PayPal as “Operation Avenge Assange," named for Julian Assange, editor-in-chief and founder of WikiLeaks.
Ten of the 13 Anonymous hackers pled guilty to felony charges and will be able to have those charges reduced to misdemeanors next year, if they don't violate their agreements with the government, according to the U.S. attorney's office. The other three hackers pled guilty to misdemeanors.
No Great Deterrent
We asked Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, for his take on the plea deal. He told us he doesn’t think it will be a deterrent to other Anonymous members.
“To date, the folks seem to be willing to take their lumps for what they feel is the greater good or for following their hearts on these very sensitive subjects,” King said. “The defendants aren’t paying a huge price for this outside of whatever their lawyers fees were. It’s not the kind of thing that’s going to land them in prison for five to 10 years.”
King said part of the leniency could be due to the relative difficulty of proving measurable harm. The charges are thoroughly technical and minor, he explained, and it may be tough for PayPal to come up with evidence of significant damage suffered at the defendant’s hands.
“In fact, you could probably argue that the company’s decision to stop accepting payments to Wikileaks in light of everything that’s been happening since then might have done the company greater damage than anything that Anonymous hackers may have done to them,” King concluded.
Posted: 2013-12-17 @ 11:39am PT
Yeah now while you got them and had your back turned, what else did they get?