By Jennifer LeClaire / CIO Today. Updated February 29, 2012.
Police in South America and Europe have arrested 25 suspected members of the "hacktivist" group known as Anonymous.
According to Interpol, Operation Unmask was launched in mid-February after a series of coordinated cyber-attacks originating from Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Spain against the Colombian Ministry of Defense and presidential Web sites, as well as Chile's Endesa electricity company and its National Library, among others.
Some 250 items of IT equipment and mobile phones were also seized during searches of 40 premises across 15 cities during the operation, as well as payment cards and cash, as part of a continuing investigation into the funding of illegal activities carried out by the suspected hackers who are aged 17 to 40, Interpol reports.
"This operation shows that crime in the virtual world does have real consequences for those involved, and that the Internet cannot be seen as a safe haven for criminal activity, no matter where it originates or where it is targeted," said Bernd Rossbach, acting Interpol executive director of Police Services.
Anonymous Strikes Back
Anonymous was quick to strike back. After Interpol made the arrests, Web sites for both Interpol and the Spanish police went down. Anonymous took responsibility with a Twitter message that read, "interpol.int DOWN."
"The police are enforcing the laws. Anonymous in this case is acting outside of them. Punishing the authorities by taking down their Web sites probably isn't going to act as a deterrent to investigations and arrests," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. "The police officers aren't really harmed by this. The only people they are punishing are the site administrators."
In fact, Enderle said taking down law enforcement Web sites could actually backfire on Anonymous at large, and the individual members who were just arrested. Among those arrested was a 16-year-old girl, representative of Anonymous' young demographic.
"If Anonymous figures this behavior is going to take the pressure off the folks who were arrested, that probably won't happen either. Judges don't look kindly on folks attacking the legal system," Enderle said. "The end result could actually be harsher treatment for the folks who have been arrested."
Will Anonymous Keep Fighting?
Will these arrests serve as a deterrent to Anonymous members? Not if history serves as any indicator. In June 2011, Spanish police arrested three men who were allegedly part of the computer hacking group, which had launched attacks on Sony's PlayStation Network. Days later, Turkey arrested 32 suspected Anonymous members.
Anonymous first gained fame in 2010 when it issued a hit list of Web sites hostile to WikiLeaks. The group went on to attack PayPal and MasterCard, which had stopped donations to WikiLeaks after the U.S. government shut down the site. Although the arrests may make some Anonymous members think twice about their involvement, Enderle doesn't expect it to stop them.
"A lot of the Anonymous members are relatively young. When you are under 20, cause and effect hasn't quite soaked in yet. Until they are arrested, a lot of them are going to believe they can't be arrested. I am not convinced that it is going to have any effect, except on the more mature members of the organization," Enderle said.
"Unless authorities arrest a far larger number than 25 it isn't likely those members will see that as a personal risk. It is a battle Anonymous has engaged in, and they believe they are invulnerable and smart enough not to get caught."