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5 arrested, another confesses in hacking attacks

By Todd Lighty and Wailin Wong, Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO — Five computer hackers were charged Tuesday for crimes related to high-profile cyber attacks against major corporations and government entities.

Authorities have been investigating Anonymous, a decentralized international collective of “hacktivists,” or people who manipulate computer networks for political protests and other actions. Anonymous is connected to a number of related groups, including LulzSec, Internet Feds and AntiSec.

In addition, Hector Xavier Monsegur, a 28-year-old New Yorker and self-identified member of Anonymous, Internet Feds and LulzSec, pleaded guilty to 12 criminal counts in August. Federal court papers in his case were unsealed Tuesday in New York, revealing that he was connected to hacks of security firm HBGary, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Fox Broadcasting Company and Public Broadcasting Service.

Jeremy Hammond was arrested late Monday in Chicago. The Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed that it raided a home in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood.

In addition to Hammond and Monsegur, federal authorities identified four other men connected to the groups Anonymous and LulzSec who were charged with computer hacking and other crimes. The four others were identified as Ryan Ackroyd, Jake Davis, Darren Martyn and Donncha O’Cearrbhail.

Monsegur and other members of Anonymous took responsibility for a series of attacks against commercial and government computer systems between December 2010 and June 2011, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York.

In one of the attacks, officials said, Monsegur targeted Visa, Mastercard and PayPal to disrupt their websites in retaliation for refusing to process donations to WikiLeaks, an organization that disseminates classified government and diplomatic documents.

In another attack, as members of LulzSec, Monsegur and three others hacked the computer systems used by the Public Broadcasting System, in retaliation for what LulzSec perceived to be unfavorable news coverage in an episode of the news program Frontline, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

According to federal authorities, Hammond identified himself as a member of AntiSec. He was charged with counts of computer hacking conspiracy, computer hacking and conspiracy to commit access device fraud.

Authorities said he conspired to hack into the computer systems of Stratfor, an Austin, Texas-based intelligence firm that conducts geopolitical analysis for governments and other clients, in December. Hammond and fellow AntiSec members stole confidential information, including employee emails and account information for about 860,000 Stratfor clients, according to authorities. They also allegedly stole credit card information for about 60,000 users and made $700,000 in unauthorized charges.

Federal authorities said Anonymous has been operating since at least 2008, taking responsibility for cyber attacks between December 2010 and June 2011. Some of these attacks take the form of denial of service, or DoS, attacks, which involve overloading a computer network so it can’t provide its regular service. The websites of Visa, MasterCard and PayPal were hit with DoS attacks, as were foreign government computer systems.

Other attacks included stealing confidential information and making it public, hijacking e-mail and Twitter accounts and defacing websites. Among the alleged victims whose information was compromised were 70,000 potential contestants on the Fox television show “X-Factor,” 100,000 users of Sony’s website and 200,000 website users of Bethesda Softworks, a Maryland video game company.

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