FBI agents raided three locations on Long Island and one in Brooklyn Tuesday… (Jim Staubitser / AP Photo…)
In what it said was the largest sweep of Internet "hactivists" in the U.S., the FBI arrested 14 alleged members of hacker group Anonymous, which last fall took responsibility for knocking out the websites of several large companies.
The 14 people arrested, including two from Southern California, may be the first alleged members of Anonymous to be arrested by the FBI, said a law enforcement official not authorized to speak on the matter. The raids may also mark the first time that federal agents arrested individuals for cyber crimes that may have been committed as a form of political protest.
The arrests came as a result of a distributed denial of service attack — when attackers try to jam a company's website by getting large numbers of computers to contact it at the same time — on PayPal Inc. late last year, federal officials said. Anonymous claimed to have attacked PayPal and other companies including Visa Inc., MasterCard Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. in December as part of "Operation Avenge Assange." The attacks were launched after the companies suspended the accounts of whistleblower organization WikiLeaks, run by Julian Assange, after it began releasing classified information to the public.
The recent arrests are unusual because cyber protesting, a niche segment of cyber crime, is a relatively new phenomenon, said Stan Stahl, president of the Los Angeles chapter of trade group Information Systems Security Assn..
"I don't recall cyber protesting as something that has come up before Anonymous came up with their denial of service attacks against PayPal and Visa," he said.
Law enforcement agencies tend to target hackers based on the amount of financial havoc wreaked or their potential risk to national security, Stahl said. When Anonymous hacked huge corporations such as Visa or government entities such as the Spanish police, they pretty much guaranteed law enforcement scrutiny and action, Stahl said.
Not since 32 people were arrested in Turkey last month had so many alleged members of Anonymous been arrested. The arrests came a day after the group was involved in several attacks on websites belonging to media company News Corp.
Early Tuesday, however, at least one Anonymous member said the arrests would not stop hacker attacks.
"It doesn't matter how many people the FBI arrest," a tweet from the account @ThaiAnonymous said. "#anonymous have (sic) started something unstoppable."
The FBI said agents arrested alleged Anonymous members in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico and Ohio.
The FBI released the names and online aliases of all but one of the arrested individuals. The alleged members of Anonymous range in age from 20 to 42, though most are in their 20s.
The arrests were part of a broader ongoing investigation of cyber attacks in recent months.
Separately, the FBI said it arrested 21-year-old Lance Moore of Las Cruces, N.M., who it said may have either worked for or aided the hacker group LulzSec last month. The individual is believed to have stolen information belonging to AT&T Inc. valued at more than $5,000, according to a court document released by the FBI. The stolen information was later published by the hacker group, the FBI said in a release.
The FBI also said Scott Matthew Arciszewski, 21, was arrested and will appear in federal court in Orlando, Fla. Arciszewski is suspected of hacking the Tampa Bay Infragard website, which is affiliated with the FBI.
Five alleged hackers were arrested in Europe but the FBI, which worked with authorities in Britain and the Netherlands, did not say if they were involved with Anonymous.
Times staff writer Shan Li contributed to this article.