- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2011

U.S. and British authorities carried out a coordinated series of raids Thursday as part of a growing international hunt for the hackers behind several cyber-attacks in support of the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

British police arrested five people in separate raids at their homes across the country, saying they were linked with the mysterious online collective that organized the attacks last year and calls itself “Anonymous.”

The FBI said in a statement it had “executed more than 40 search warrants” as part of “an ongoing investigation into recent coordinated cyber-attacks against major companies and organizations.” It added that there had not been any arrests so far in the United States.

A bureau spokeswoman told The Washington Times she could not give any more details about the searches because the warrants remained sealed.

Last year, as part of the same investigation, the FBI executed a search warrant at a computer server hosting firm in Dallas, which became public when court documents associated with it were briefly unsealed in error and posted online by the Smoking Gun website.

The five arrested in Britain — including three teens aged 15, 16 and 19, and two men aged 20 and 26 — were seized in early morning raids at homes across the country, according to a statement from New Scotland Yard.

“Detectives from the Metropolitan Police Service’s Police Central e-Crime Unit have arrested five people in connection with offenses under the Computer Misuse Act,” the statement said.

They are being held in custody, and if convicted face sentences of up to 10 years in prison and fines equal to about $8,000.

The statement added the arrests were “in relation to recent and ongoing ‘distributed denial of service’ attacks by an online group calling themselves ‘Anonymous.’ “

Internet payment services company PayPal and credit card giants Visa and MasterCard - among several other sites — suffered such attacks by Anonymous after they cut services to WikiLeaks last year in response to the website publishing a trove of classified State Department diplomatic communications.

WikiLeaks said last year it had nothing to do with the attacks, noting it also had been the victim of denial of service strikes.

Members of Anonymous discussed possible targets and timing of their attacks over Internet chat services and dubbed the attacks - which they publicized to encourage others to join in - “Operation: Payback.”

According to the briefly unsealed documents, the FBI raid in Dallas last year was seeking evidence about the operation of an Internet chat server used to coordinate and target the attacks.

That one raid was the fruit of a week’s worth of cyberforensic work by police in three different countries, reflecting the international character of Anonymous and underlining the complexities inherent in building such criminal cases on the borderless terrain of the Internet.

Two people, a 16-year-old and a 19-year-old, were arrested separately as part of the investigation in the Netherlands last year, and authorities in Germany, Sweden and France also are involved in the manhunt.

Denial of service attacks use large numbers of computers to bombard target websites with bogus traffic, which slows or shuts them down. Such attacks often use computers recruited to so-called “zombie nets” or “botnets” after being infected with malicious software that takes them over.

But in “Operation: Payback,” many of the participants were volunteers who apparently downloaded a special software package that would enable their computers to join the attacks.

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