Anonymous Attacks U.S. Law Enforcement Sites and Steals Data

The group of hackers known as Anonymous announced on Saturday that it hacked into some 70 mostly rural law enforcement websites in the United States, a data breach that at least one local police chief said leaked sensitive information about an ongoing investigation.

Individuals appearing in public as Anonymous, wearing the Guy Fawkes masks popularized by the comic book and film V for Vendetta. Photo: Vincent Diamante/Flickr

The loose-knit international hacking group posted a cache of data to the internet early on Saturday, including emails stolen from officers, tips that appeared to come from members of the public, credit card numbers and other information.

In a statement, Anonymous declared that it had leaked “a massive amount of confidential information that is sure to [embarrass], discredit and incriminate police officers across the US”.

The group said it hoped the disclosures would “demonstrate the inherently corrupt nature of law enforcement using their own words” and “disrupt and sabotage their ability to communicate and terrorise communities”.

The group did not specify why these sheriffs’ departments were targeted, but Anonymous members have increasingly been pursued by law enforcement in the United States and elsewhere following a string of high-profile data thefts and denial of service attacks – operations that block websites by flooding them with traffic.

Anonymous said it had stolen 10 gigabytes worth of data in retaliation for the arrests of its sympathisers in the US and Britain.

Tim Mayfield, a police chief in Gassville, Ark., told The Associated Press that some of the material posted online — including pictures of teenage girls in their swimsuits — was sent to him as part of an ongoing investigation. He refused to provide more details.

Mayfield’s comments were the first indication that the hack might be serious. Since news of some kind of cyberattack first filtered out less than a week ago, various police officials said they were unaware of the hacking or dismissed it as nothing to worry about.

Though many of the leaked emails appeared benign, some of the stolen material carried sensitive information, including tips about suspected crimes, profiles of gang members and security training

The emails were mainly from sheriffs’ offices in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Mississippi. Many of the websites were operated by a media services hosting company in Mountain Home, Arkansas, and most, if not all, were either unavailable on Saturday or had been wiped clean of content. The company, Brooks-Jeffrey Marketing, declined to comment.

Anonymous also posted several emails from police tipsters, many who had asked law enforcement not use their names because they were afraid of retaliation. One tipster wrote that his uncle was a convicted sexual offender who was homeless and hanging around an area Walmart and other places where children were.

Another tipster wrote to police that she and her neighbors could smell drugs coming from a house. Both did not respond to emails sent by the AP requesting comment.

An Internet security expert said Anonymous may have gone after the sheriffs’ offices because the hosting company was an easy target. Dick Mackey, vice president of consulting at Sudbury, Mass.-based SystemExperts, said many organizations don’t see themselves as potential targets for international hackers, causing indifference that can leave them vulnerable.

“It seems to me to be low-hanging fruit,” he said. “If you want to go after someone and make a point and want to have their defenses be low, go after someone who doesn’t consider themselves a target.”

Last month, the FBI and British and Dutch officials made 21 arrests, many of them related to the group’s attacks on Internet payment provider PayPal Inc., which has been targeted over its refusal to process donations to WikiLeaks. The group also claims credit for disrupting the websites of Visa and MasterCard in December when the credit card companies stopped processing donations to WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.

In Arkansas, St. Francis County Sheriff Bobby May said his department and several others were targeted in retaliation for the arrest of hackers who had targeted Apple Computer Inc., among other companies.

“It’s an international group who are hacking into law enforcement websites across the nation is my understanding,” May told the AP in a telephone interview. He said the FBI was investigating the attacks.

FBI spokesman Steve Frazier did not return several phone calls seeking comment. But other sheriffs seemed to first learn of the scope of the hacking only when contacted by the AP.

Peter E. Walker, sheriff of Jefferson County in Mississippi, said he did not know whether his office’s website had been hacked. “As soon as we’re back up and rolling on Monday, if something happened we’ll be aware of it,” he said. [via The New York Times and The Guardian]

Share this article

We welcome comments that advance the story directly or with relevant tangential information. We try to block comments that use offensive language, all capital letters or appear to be spam, and we review comments frequently to ensure they meet our standards. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Coinspeaker Ltd.