Spain has pulled off a Net security coup and arrested three men suspected of the attacks on Sony’s PlayStation Network among others. Those arrested are local Anonymous hacktivists. So cops have essentially whacked a hornet’s nest.
Grabbing a few Anonymous members is unlikely to affect the overall online presence of the group, thanks to its international membership and its protective cloak of anonymity. The act may even spur Anonymous to hack more Spanish assets. As Information security expert John D’Arcy (professor it IT management at Notre Dame University) remarked, “This will have little overall impact in terms of the slowing down the hacking group. Historically, hackers have received very light sentences (compared to other convicted felons) and often times these cases get hung up in courts because there is little in terms of legal precedent for computer-type crimes.” D’Arcy also noted “many of the folks involved in this hacking group are minors” which, to some degree, protects them from arrest or overly serious legal consequences.
The arrests, announced today, were the culmination of months of detective work which began after hackers DDoS’d the Ministry of Culture’s website to complain about strict new laws punishing illegal downloading. One of the men had a computer “server” in his apartment which was used to attack Sony’s PSN and also Spanish banks and other government sites in Algeria, Spain, Egypt, Libya, Iran, and a number of other nations. The three men will likely be charged with grouping in an “illegal association” with the intention of attacking public and private websites–and face up to three years each in jail.
For anyone following the news, the presence of Sony, Egypt, Libya, and Iran in their target list gives away the online identity of these guys. They’re members of Anonymous, the diffuse association of digital campaigners who believe in definitive action to champion their causes. Spanish police say these are the local “leaders” of the group, which is an interesting claim given that Anonymous seems to have a very ephemeral structure.
It’s also interesting that the charge sheet would seem to include government sites in Egypt and Libya as evidence of their crimes. Spain is a member of NATO, and it’s thus directly responsible for ongoing military action to support the popular revolt in Libya, in fact Spain is playing a key role largely due to its proximity to the African nation. Critics could argue Spain prefers its population not to act even as it itself helps launch gunship assaults against an entrenched dictator.
Sony has had to spend close to $200 million to repair and defend its networks after a spate of attacks, but it’s not clear how much of a role, if any, Anonymous (or its loose affiliate LulzSec) had in the initial theft of consumer credit card data.