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International Arrests of 25 Alleged Anon Hackers Made

South American and European law enforcement agencies arrested 25 individuals believed to be members of hacktivist group Anonymous on Tuesday.

Other members of the group struck back quickly, taking down the Interpol and Spanish police websites.

The arrests of the suspects, aged 17 to 40, resulted from an international effort called “Operation Unmask.” They took place in 15 cities in Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Spain, according to Interpol.

Police also confiscated about 250 pieces of IT equipment and mobile phones, along with payment cards and cash.

Operation Unmask, supported by an Interpol cyber-crime working group and national police in those four countries, was launched in mid-February in response to cyberattacks against the Colombian Ministry of Defense and presidential websites, two Chilean electricity companies and Chile’s National Library, among other sites, Interpol said.

Interpol has cyber-crime working groups in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the South Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East and North Africa.

Interpol did not immediately specify the charges against the suspects, which include 10 people in Argentina, six in Chile, five in Colombia and four in Spain, according to a CNN report, which also said one of the suspects in Spain was a 16-year-old girl who is an alleged member of the "Sector 404" international hacking group linked to Anonymous attacks.

The Associated Press reported that Marcos Mercado, the prosecutor on the case in Chile, said the suspects were charged with altering websites and engaging in denial-of-service attacks on the websites of the electricity companies Endesa and Hidroaysen in Chile. The charges carry penalties of 541 days to five years in prison, he said.

Shortly after the arrests, Interpol’s website was knocked offline, and Anonymous claimed credit on its Twitter feed. The site was back up by Wednesday morning.

The website of the Spanish Police National Corps also went down after the arrests and was still unavailable at midday Eastern time Feb. 29.

Anonymous, a loose-knit collective with no central leadership, has gained fame for an ongoing series of distributed denial-of-service attacks on corporate and government websites around the world, including those of the CIA, FBI, Federal Trade Commission, United Nations, Vatican, a number of state and regional police organizations, and companies such as Visa and PayPal.

A recent hack of the intelligence analysis company Strategic Forecasting netted account information on thousands of the company’s customers, including government agencies and defense contractors, which has since been used in a spear-phishing campaign targeting those account holders.

Anonymous has since teamed up with the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks to begin releasing what it says are 5 million e-mails taken in the hack, Information Week reports.

The group also recently threatened to attack the Internet’s Domain Name System root servers March 31, although at least one security expert said that attack is unlikely to cause any real damage, NetworkWorld reported. 

Anonymous and an allied hacker group, LulzSec, have been targeted by police crackdowns before. A series of arrests in the United States and Europe in mid-2011 reduced the groups’ membership, at one point bringing the membership of LulzSec down to two, although it seems to have rebounded since.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is the managing editor of Government Computer News.

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