Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Police in the U.K. Arrest Five in "Anonymous" Web Attacks

Police in London say they have arrested five people in connection with a series of attacks on Web sites around the world carried out by the group that calls itself “Anonymous.”

The five range in age from 15 to 26 and were arrested in early-morning raids on their homes. They’re accused of being involved in distributed denial-of-service attacks, where groups of users flood a Web site with more traffic than it can handle, thus slowing its performance to a crawl.

!n 2010 the group claimed responsibility for attacks on several Web sites, in apparent sympathy with WikiLeaks–the secret-exposing site that last year unleashed a barrage of previously confidential U.S. diplomatic cables. Targets of Anonymous included the Web sites of PayPal, Mastercard and Visa Europe after those companies stopped financial contributions from going to accounts belonging to the WikiLeaks organization. The action was dubbed “Operation Payback.” The police declined to say which attacks the five arrested are alleged to have taken part in.

Amazon was thought at one point to have been a target when its service went down briefly in December at a moment that coincided with chatter that Anonymous wanted to attack it. The company later said it had suffered a brief hardware problem.

Calling Anonymous a group is a bit misleading. Most of the people who chose to participate in one of its attacks did so by downloading software to their computers called the Low Orbit Ion Canon. Attacks were organized on the channels of Internet Relay Chat, and coordinated orders for all participants to “fire” their weapons were issued on Twitter. The software running on each desktop would then simulate legitimate Web requests to the target site, inundating it with so many requests that it would be overwhelmed and effectively rendered useless.

Earlier this month the group had trained its sights on Web sites belonging to the government of Tunisia, following civil unrest there, and just yesterday it was said to be attacking sites in Egypt.

This is the second round of arrests related to the attacks. Two teenagers in the Netherlands have also been arrested–one said to be connected to the attacks on Visa and Mastercard, the other allegedly involved in an attack on the Web site belonging to a Swedish prosecutor investigating sexual assault charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

And speaking of Assange, CBS just announced that he’ll be interviewed by Steve Kroft of “60 Minutes” this Sunday. Here’s hoping that prompts a new Assange sketch from “Saturday Night Live,” like the one below from December.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus