The FBI announced an international crackdown against computer hacking yesterday, and 21 alleged hackers have been arrested in the U.S., Britain and the Netherlands.
The biggest part of the operation was the arrest of 14 hackers of the group called “Anonymous” who the FBI claims were responsible for a cyber attack of the eBay subsidiary PayPal in retaliation for the site’s actions against Wikileaks. The other two arrests made in the U.S. were of men accused of separate hacking operations, one of which allegedly stole confidential AT&T business information and one which allegedly hacked the site of an infrastructure protection group which is sponsored by the FBI.
Four more people were arrested for cybercrimes by Dutch police, and one by the United Kingdom’s Metropolitan Police Service, operations which the FBI says were done in coordination with U.S. authorities. And the FBI also says it conducted over 35 additional search warrants throughout the U.S. as part of another ongoing investigation into cybercrimes against major companies.
Despite the broad focus on cybercrime in the crackdown, most of the arrests were part of the latest development in the Wikileaks controversy. The FBI claims that after Wikileaks released its State Department cables in November of 2010, PayPal suspended the organization’s account, preventing it from receiving donations through PayPal. “Anonymous” then attacked PayPal’s computer servers and tried to make the service unusable. The FBI says the group named the attack “Operation Avenge Assange,” after Wikileaks’ leader Julian Assange.
Those arrested will be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney Offices in the Northern District of California, which is dealing with the 14 Wikileaks-related defendants, and the middle District of Florida and New Jersey, which are handling the other two. The Justice Department said in a press release that the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section assisted in the operation. The main charge against the defendants is intentional damage to a protected computer and carries a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Those arrested are mostly young, nine of the 16 are 26 years old or under, and spread out across the country. Even in the 14 arrests made in the Wikileaks case, the alleged hackers were arrested in 9 different states and D.C.