David Wertheimer, executive director of Entertainment Technology Center at USC, says hackers operate a little like terrorists, forming small groups to do their deeds, but Tuesday's arrests show they can be traced and arrested. Would-be hackers should take note of this: You can hide in cyberspace, but you also can be caught.
U.S. authorities arrested 14 people Tuesday on suspicion they were involved in major cyber hacking attacks that were committed as retaliation against companies which stopped processing donations to WikiLeaks after the whistleblowing site published scores of government documents detailing U.S. war operations.
Internet vigilante hacking group Anonymous has claimed credit for disrupting corporate and government websites, including an Arizona police website, and those of Visa, MasterCard and San Jose-based PayPal.
The federal indictment (PDF) alleged that the group coordinated and executed distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on PayPal computers, making their servers unavailable to users from Dec. 6, 2010, to Dec. 10, 2010.
"DDoS attacks are attempts to render computers unavailable to users through a variety of means, including saturating the target computers or networks with external communications requests, thereby denying service to legitimate users," according to the Department of Justice.
Fourteen arrests were made in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico and Ohio, according to a news release from the Department of Justice. The FBI executed more than 35 search warrants.
The people named in the indictment: Christopher Wayne Cooper, 23; Joshua John Covelli, 26; Keith Wilson Downey, 26; Mercedes Renee Haefer, 20; Donald Husband, 29; Vincent Kershaw, 27; Ethan Miles, 33; James C. Murphy, 36; Drew Alan Phillips, 26; Jeffrey Puglisi, 28; Daniel Sullivan, 22; Tracy Ann Valenzuela, 42; and Christopher Quang Vo, 22. One defendant's name was kept confidential by the court.
The Mercury News reported that Phillips is from Santa Rosa and Valenzuela is from Napa. They are scheduled to make court appearances in San Jose federal court Thursday.
Although no arrests were made in New York, FBI agents conducted six residential raids in the state earlier Tuesday, including one in Brooklyn and five on Long Island, seizing computers, FBI spokesman in New York Jim Margolin said.
MSNBC reports the Department of Justice said so far, "more than 75 searches have taken place in the United States as part of the ongoing investigations into these attacks."
Seized equipment was suspected of being used by members of the loosely organized group of hackers.