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Busted: Hacker Collective Anonymous Not So Anonymous Anymore

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The FBI conducted a massive raid against Anonymous on Tuesday, arresting 16 people scattered across nine states — Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico and Ohio — in connection with various hacking attacks by the notorious loose-knit hacking collective, CBS News reports.

The FBI had been tight-lipped about who they’ve arrested or what charges are being brought, but it’s evident they massive raid was for something other than Anonymous’ planned social networking site. The indictment was eventually unsealed by the Justice Department in in federal court in northern California.

Anonymous has publicly taken credit for denial-of-service attacks against PayPal, Visa, and MasterCard after these payment services decided to stop transmitting donations to the secret-spilling site, WikiLeaks.

Over the past few months the group has gained a bit of notoriety for several other high-profile hacks, including ones against Monsanto, the U.S. Military, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the City of Orlando, Sony and its PlayStation Network and several foreign governments. They also announced they would begin to take on oil companies in the near future.

Details are fairly scarce at the moment, but here’s what we know. Fox News notes:

Earlier in the day, the FBI executed search warrants at the New York homes — two in Long Island, N.Y., and one in Brooklyn, N.Y. — of three suspected members of Anonymous, FoxNews.com reported.

More than 10 FBI agents arrived at the Baldwin, N.Y., home of Giordani Jordan with a search warrant for computers and computer-related accessories, removing at least one laptop from the premises.

FROM TPM, which has more details: Those arrested today, according to the FBI, are: Scott Matthew Arciszewski, 21, Christopher Wayne Cooper, 23, aka “Anthrophobic;” Joshua John Covelli, 26, aka “Absolem” and “Toxic;” Keith Wilson Downey, 26; Mercedes Renee Haefer, 20, aka “No” and “MMMM;” Donald Husband, 29, aka “Ananon;” Vincent Charles Kershaw, 27, aka “Trivette,” “Triv” and “Reaper;” Lance Moore, 21; Ethan Miles, 33; James C. Murphy, 36; Drew Alan Phillips, 26, aka “Drew010;” Jeffrey Puglisi, 28, aka “Jeffer,” “Jefferp” and “Ji;” Daniel Sullivan, 22; Tracy Ann Valenzuela, 42; and Christopher Quang Vo, 22. An additional individual’s name was being withheld.

This is the biggest arrest related to an ongoing and ramped-up effort by law enforcement officials around the world to crack down on hackers.

The Metropolitan Police in London arrested the first alleged member of another hacker group, LulzSec, on June 20th, a 19-year-old teen named Ryan Cleary. Subsequent sweeps through Italy and Switzerland in early July led to the arrests of 15 more people — all between the ages of 15 and 28 years old.

LulzSec is the other high-profile hacking collective that shutdown their operations after the arrest of Cleary and merged their efforts with Anonymous. The difference between the two groups is Anonymous has always been more politically motivated, while LulzSec seemed to hack for laughs.

The FBI has said the investigation is ongoing — fairly standard stuff — and that they would comment at a later time, according to most media outlets reporting on this story.

If you are the FBI, what’s most difficult is that the organizational structure of Anonymous, if there even is one, seems to take a page out of the al Qaeda playbook. You make an arrest here or there, but how do you ever really bring down the group?

Police also arrested 24-year-old Aaron Schwartz, who was one of the early employees of Reddit (he may or may not be a co-founder depending on whom you talk to) and the founder of Demand Progress, was indicted (PDF) on charges today in Boston that “he stole more than four million documents from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and JSTOR, an archive of scientific journals and academic papers.”

Here’s the statement from Demand Progress:

“This makes no sense,” said Demand Progress Executive Director David Segal; “it’s like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library.”

“It’s even more strange because JSTOR has settled any claims against Aaron, explained they’ve suffered no loss or damage, and asked the government not to prosecute,” Segal added.

James Jacobs, the Government Documents Librarian at Stanford University, also denounced the arrest: “Aaron’s prosecution undermines academic inquiry and democratic principles,” Jacobs said. “It’s incredible that the government would try to lock someone up for allegedly looking up articles at a library.”

But that still conveniently ignores the fact that Shwartz allegedly “broke into a restricted area of M.I.T. and entered a computer wiring closet.” Oddly enough, MIT apparently asked the government not to prosecute Schwartz for the crime they are charging him with. A guilty conviction could result in up to 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

This is completely unrelated to the FBI’s Anonymous raid.

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