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Wisconsin man indicted in Anonymous attack of Koch Industries

March 27, 2013|By Matt Pearce | This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.
  • Jane Pederson, center, of Menomonie, Wis., protests in front of the offices of Koch Industries in Madison, Wis., in 2011.
Jane Pederson, center, of Menomonie, Wis., protests in front of the offices… (Andy Manis / Associated…)

A Wisconsin man could face years in federal prison if he is convicted of helping hacker collective Anonymous take down Koch Industries' website during protests in the state's capital in 2011, according to an indictment revealed this week.

The charges were announced Tuesday by the U.S. attorney's office in Wichita, Kan. -- the home of Koch Industries, a $115-billion-a-year oil and manufacturing conglomerate owned by libertarian iconoclasts Charles and David Koch.

Officials said Eric J. Rosol, 37, of Black Creek, Wis., participated in an Anonymous-organized shutdown of Koch websites www.kochind.com and www.quiltednorthern.com on Feb. 27 and 28 in 2011.

Rosol is the first and only defendant charged in the attack, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office told the Los Angeles Times.

The Koch site shutdown came during the height of pro-union protests in Wisconsin's state capital that winter, when the Koch brothers came under criticism for backing the state's union cutbacks. Under the hashtag #OpWisconsin, Anonymous members issued a statement accusing the Kochs of "political manipulation" and said, "We are actively seeking vulnerabilities."

In the world of computer crime, the attack was more of a mobbing than a robbery.

Using Internet-relay chats to organize, according to the indictment, Anonymous conducted what's known as a distributed denial-of-service attack, or a DDOS, where users repeatedly access a website until it's too overwhelmed to function. (The physical equivalent would be a group of people standing in front of a door so closely that no one else can enter.)

"If successful, the attack causes the target computer to be unable to respond or to respond so slowly as to be effectively unavailable to users," prosecutors said in a news release.

[For the Record, 7:15 a.m., PST March 28: An earlier version of this post stated that an indictment charges that Anonymous conducted what is known as a dedicated denial-of-service attack. The indictment actually charges that the group conducted a distributed denial-of-service attack, in which a website is overloaded, not hacked.]

A confidential FBI affidavit obtained by The Smoking Gun in July 2011 showed FBI agents peering in on the chat channels where Anonymous members were organizing to use a DDOS tool called the "Low Orbit Ion Cannon" to overcrowd the Kochs' websites during the attack.

"Keep it up, boys and kids! LAZERS TO 146.209.131.43," one user chatted on Feb. 28, 2011, apparently referring to the site's IP address, according to the affidavit. "kochind.com is down and sinking further! Keep it up!"

"hmmm... kochind looks down to me," one user on the #OPWISCONSIN chat channel said.

"after it's down, do you have to keep firing?" one chatted.

"YES ALWAYS KEEP FIRING," a user replied, according to the affidavit.

The site quickly returned to service, according to news reports after the attack.

Rosol is charged with one count of conspiracy to damage a protected computer and one count of damaging a protected computer. Each charge carries a maximum prison sentence of five years and a $250,000 fine. Rosol did not respond to a phone message left Wednesday.

An archived version of his blog showed that he posted a link to a Greenpeace report on Koch Industries the day of the website attack; the post has since been removed.

Rosol posted a link to a story about his indictment on Facebook on Wednesday.

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