Tag Archives: Anonymous

Persecuting Hackers in the United States: the case of Barrett Brown

Truth-Warner-Highsmith

A federal court in Dallas, Texas has imposed a gag order on the jailed activist-journalist Barrett Brown [pdf] and his legal team that prevents them from talking to the media about his prosecution in which he faces up to 100 years in prison for alleged offences relating to his work exposing online surveillance.

The court order, imposed by the district court for the northern district of Texas at the request of the US government, prohibits the defendant and his defence team, as well as prosecutors, from making “any statement to members of any television, radio, newspaper, magazine, internet (including, but not limited to, bloggers), or other media organization about this case, other than matters of public interest.”  It goes on to warn Brown and his lawyers that “no person covered by this order shall circumvent its effect by actions that indirectly, but deliberately, bring about a violation of this order”…

But media observers seen the hearing in the opposite light: as the latest in a succession of prosecutorial moves under the Obama administration to crack-down on investigative journalism, official leaking, hacking and online activism.Brown’s lead defence attorney, Ahmed Ghappour, has countered in court filings, the most recent of which was lodged with the court Wednesday, that the government’s request for a gag order is unfounded as it is based on false accusations and misrepresentations.

The lawyer says the gagging order is a breach of Brown’s first amendment rights as an author who continues to write from his prison cell on issues unconnected to his own case for the Guardian and other media outlets.In his memo to the court for today’s hearing, Ghappour writes that Brown’s July article for the Guardian “contains no statements whatsoever about this trial, the charges underlying the indictment, the alleged acts underlying the three indictments against Mr Brown, or even facts arguably related to this prosecution.”

Brown, 32, was arrested in Dallas on 12 September last year and has been in prison ever since, charged with 17 counts that include threatening a federal agent, concealing evidence and disseminating stolen information. He faces a possible maximum sentence of 100 years in custody.  Before his arrest, Brown became known as a specialist writer on the US government’s use of private military contractors and cybersecurity firms to conduct online snooping on the public. He was regularly quoted by the media as an expert on Anonymous, the loose affiliation of hackers that caused headaches for the US government and several corporate giants, and was frequently referred to as the group’s spokesperson, though he says the connection was overblown.

In 2011, through the research site he set up called Project PM, he investigated thousands of emails that had been hacked by Anonymous from the computer system of a private security firm, HB Gary Federal. His work helped to reveal that the firm had proposed a dark arts effort to besmirch the reputations of WikiLeaks supporters and prominent liberal journalists and activists including the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald.

In 2012, Brown similarly pored over millions of emails hacked by Anonymous from the private intelligence company Stratfor. It was during his work on the Stratfor hack that Brown committed his most serious offence, according to US prosecutors – he posted a link in a chat room that connected users to Stratfor documents that had been released online. The released documents included a list of email addresses and credit card numbers belonging to Stratfor subscribers. For posting that link, Brown is accused of disseminating stolen information – a charge with media commentators have warned criminalises the very act of linking.

As Geoffrey King, Internet Advocacy Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, has put it, the Barrett Brown case “could criminalize the routine journalistic practice of linking to documents publicly available on the internet, which would seem to be protected by the first amendment to the US constitution under current doctrine”.

Excerpt, Ed Pilkington, US stops jailed activist Barrett Brown from discussing leaks prosecution, Guardian, Sept. 4, 2014

See also Persecuting the Hactivists

When the Cyber Peacekeepers are not in Town; the cyberbattles of the 21st century

BBC’s Newsnight was invited to listen in at the conference on Cyber Defense and Network Security.  Here are excerpts of their report.

Overall, the US military aims to recruit 10,000 “cyber warriors”, and is apparently prepared to relax the usual entry criteria. They will accept long hair, even someone who can’t run too well.  But there is a minimum requirement. Recruits will naturally be at the top of their field. They will be “a professional elite… trusted and disciplined, and precise… collateral damage is not acceptable,” Lt Gen Hernandez told delegates….

John Bumgarner, from the US Cyber Consequences Unit in Washington told Newsnight there will soon be a need for a virtual UN peacekeeping force – in cyberspace.”We’ve seen cyber incidents between Russia and Georgia, and that’s ongoing. We’ve seen incidents between Pakistan and India and that’s ongoing. We’ve seen stuff between China and India… between Israel and other Middle Eastern states. The UN needs to figure out how they can deploy peace keepers in the digital borders of a nation, virtual peacekeepers that would protect the peace.”

Sir John thinks the cyber threat is growing by definition because use of the internet is growing. But he sees this as more than a purely military domain.”There’s quite a lot of talk about cyber warfare, and cyber attacks as if this is a military issue. Of course there are military aspects to it and military infrastructure aspects to it, and in the event of some future state-to-state conflict undoubtedly this would be a huge feature. But in the immediate term this is something which is happening now, the attacks and the downloading and the theft and the invasion of privacy are happening now on a day-by-day basis.”…Stewart Room of Field Fisher Waterhouse said there was now a need for an amnesty – instead of punishment – for companies that suffered a data loss or cyber-attack.  An amnesty, he argued, would help to encourage companies to come forward and discuss what went wrong – so that others could learn, fast.  He is also calling for a new “cyber law”, to formalise best practice….

Headlines about cyber attacks pop up almost daily now. One of the most startling was the attack on the global intelligence firm Stratfor over Christmas, for which members of the loose-knit hacker group Anonymous claimed responsibility.John Bumgarner analysed the data released for the Guardian newspaper and concluded that thousands of British email addresses and passwords – including those of defence, intelligence and police officials as well as politicians and Nato advisers – had been revealed.  Mr Bumgarner chuckled when we asked if the Stratfor release might dent people’s confidence in the ability of even the most security-conscious of organisations to keep data safe.  “We’re taking it on blind faith… really when you give your information out as a private citizen to a corporation you’re praying that that corporation will protect your data… as much as possible, but they can only do so much.”

Excerpts, Susan Watts, Call for cyberwar ‘peacekeepers’ , BBC, Jan. 26, 2012

One More Reason to Occupy Nigeria: the severe environmental damage

The Nigerian cell of the Anonymous collective has continued its ongoing campaign against government corruption issuing a statement listing its demands.  Sent to the International Business Times on Tuesday via email the statement has since been re-posted on Pastebin – indicating that it is likely authentic.  In it the collective promised to continue mounting its ongoing series of cyber assaults against the Nigerian government should its demands for “justice” and an end to violence against protesters not be met. Specifically Anonymous Nigeria’s demands were six-fold:

“WE DEMAND THAT YOU CUT THE COST OF GOVERNMENT BY 60%

“WE DEMAND THAT YOU ELIMINATE WASTE IN GOVERNMENT

“WE DEMAND THAT YOU TACKLE CORRUPTION AND POLITICAL PATRONAGE

“WE DEMAND THAT YOU REDUCE THE PUMP PRICE OF FUEL TO N65

“WE DEMAND THAT YOU FIND OUT AND PROSECUTE MEMBERS OF THE FUEL CABAL,” read Anonymous’ statement. Later adding the final demand:

“WE DEMAND AN IMMEDIATE END TO THE KILLING OF INNOCENT PROTESTERS”

The statement follows the collective’s unified and ongoing support of all Occupy movements. Though the root cause of the Occupy movement is difficult to discern, the earliest call-to-arms stemmed from a blog post in Adbusters magazine.  Inspired by the Arab Spring and Spain’s Democracia real YA platform, Adbusters called for all like-minded individuals unhappy with the current global political and economic system to march on Wall Street and mount an ongoing sit-in-protest.

The post quickly captured the imagination of several groups, leading to the #occupywallstreet hash-tag trending on Twitter. The movement gained significant mainstream attention outside of Adbusters’ native U.S. base when the Anonymous collective took notice and publicly voiced its support.  Reiterating Adbusters’ post, Anonymous issued the above video on its AnonOps website citing a series of undisclosed actions perpetrated by “corrupt” governments and corporations as its motivation for the sit-in.  Since Adbusters’ and Anonymous’ call-to-arms the Occupy movement has spread to cities across the world, seeing citizens pitch tents in public squares and mount sit-in-protests against the world’s current political and economic systems. In all the campaigns Anonymous has openly voiced its support for the movement, publicising its live video feeds and reporting any incidents of police violence against protesters.

The Nigerian cell of Anonymous has followed this pattern, publicly voicing its support and reporting any incidents of violence against Occupy protesters. The group has already taken credit for identifying the deaths of in-excess of 10 participants in the Occupy Nigeria protest. Ending its statement Anonymous Nigeria promised it would continue its “peaceful” protest – many Anons list identify themselves as pacifists and are hostile to any and all acts of physical violence

Alastair Stevenson, Occupy Nigeria: Anonymous Demand End to Government Corruption, Jan. 11, 2012

Conventional Research Can’t but Anonymous Will

Members of the Anonymous collective are not just taking their activism to the Internet and the streets; they’re now targeting corporate financials with a securities research arm.  The mission of Anonymous Analytics is to “expose companies that practice poor corporate governance and are involved in large-scale fraudulent activities,” according to the Web site.  Anonymous researchers–who include unnamed and unnumbered “analysts, forensic accountants, statisticians, computer experts, and lawyers”–will base their investigative reports on information “acquired through legal channels, fact-checked, and vetted thoroughly before release.”  Their first target is a produce firm listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange that is under investigation by the Hong Kong government. Anonymous Analytics released a 38-page report this week accusing Chaoda Modern Agriculture of China of deceiving shareholders and investors, falsifying financial statements, using a shell company to siphon money out, and perpetrating “one of the Hong Kong Exchange’s largest, and longest running frauds.” The report predicts that the company will be eventually delisted….In another article, an Anonymous Analytics researcher disclosed to the Financial Times that “associates, partners, affiliates, consultants, clients,” and other parties have short positions on Chaoda’s stock price and thus have an “indirect interest” if the share price drops.

Anonymous is using various methods to promote its anti-corporate, anti-censorship, pro-civil liberties messages. It used to just organize distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on targets like Sony, and repressive regimes in other countries in solidarity with Arab Spring uprisings, but is expanding its scope…..Borrowing a page from the WikiLeaks whistleblower site, Anonymous launched LocalLeaks and HackerLeaks sites earlier this year for insiders and other hackers to leak sensitive information from governments and corporations.

Excerpt, Elinor Mills, Anonymous starts activism via corporate securities research, CNET. com, Sept. 29, 2011

Not Anonymous Anymore, internet and the street

The rise of groups of geeks and hackers organized — however loosely — around a political agenda is a fairly new phenomenon, experts say. And combining such activism with more traditional forms of protest is perhaps a natural evolution.  “One of the big errors of our time is believing that what happens online is separate from what happens offline,” says Paul Levinson, author of New New Media and professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University in New York.  He says there’s a long tradition of disrupting the activities of the establishment to make a point, and that Anonymous is drawing on that tradition on multiple fronts.

What Anonymous has done by joining its online and offline presence comes out of the flash-mob craze that started in 2003, says Virag Molnar, a sociology professor at the New School for Liberal Arts in New York.  “We’ve seen a huge evolution in the purposes that flash mobs have been used,” she says. “Some can be used for progressive purposes, but they can also be used for rioting, hooliganism or gang activity.”Flash mobs set up via Twitter and Facebook have appeared at BP gas stations to demonstrate against the company’s handling of the Gulf oil spill. In Switzerland, Greenpeace organized a flash mob in which more than 100 people pretended to drop dead to protest nuclear power.  Social media tools also were linked to riots this summer in Vancouver and across Britain.

Anonymous claimed responsibility last month for hacking into some 70 law enforcement websites, garnering “a massive amount of confidential information,” including emails and credit card numbers. The move was in retaliation for the FBI arrest of 16 suspects for their alleged involvement in the PayPal denial of service attack…

History of Anonymous operations:

2006: The loosely organized collective carries out some of its first major acts of online mayhem, including a distributed denial of service [DDoS] attack that disables the website of radio host Hal Turner, known for racially charged remarks.

2008: Anonymous launches Project Chanology in retaliation for the Church of Scientology’s demand that YouTube remove a church video interview of actor and Scientologist Tom Cruise. In addition to launching DDoS attacks against Scientology websites, followers wearing masks of Guy Fawkes turn out for street protests at church centers mostly in the U.S. and Europe.

2009: Following the Iranian presidential election, with its widespread accusations of vote-rigging, Anonymous launches a website supporting the Iranian Green Party with the aim of skirting official censorship.

2010: Anonymous launches a DDoS attack against Australian government websites in retaliation for Canberra’s plan to implement anti-child-pornography Internet filtering software.  The group launches Operation Payback in support of WikiLeaks and its embattled chief, Julian Assange. Denial of service attacks hit the websites of PayPal, MasterCard, Visa and Amazon.

2011: Anonymous launches various operations in support of the Arab Spring, including denial of service attacks and hacks against government websites in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Jordon and Morocco.

Operation BART draws followers into San Francisco train stations to protest the Bay Area Rapid Transit system’s decision to shut down cell phone service on the trains in an effort to quash an anti-police protest. Anonymous also hacks a BART website.

It has also spawned splinter groups such as Lulz Security (recently disbanded) and the Anti-Security Movement (still active) that have gone on to launch their own hacktivist attacks.   As the group’s name suggests, anonymity — particularly the kind that can be found in cyberspace — is important to many of its followers. Giving it up doesn’t come lightly. Members typically show up at protests sporting a mask in the likeness of the 16th century English radical Guy Fawkes.   Many Anons are in their 20s and 30s, but a few are in their 60s — the “grandfathers” of the movement….”  There is a sort of across-the-board free-speech sensibility that many Anons share, which many geeks and hackers share,” she says. “The libertarian label, though, ends at, ‘We believe in free speech.’ ”   While free speech and anti-censorship is a key part of the group’s ideology, there’s also a definite leftist and anti-capitalist strain in some Anons. “Beyond that,” she says, “it’s a pretty diverse lot.”…

Excerpt, Scott Neuman, Anonymous Comes Out In The Open, NPR, Sept. 16, 2011

Happy Hacking: Anonymous and Booz Allen

ANONYMOUS, a group of “hacktivist” computer-attackers, has already speared some big fish: credit-card companies, the church of Scientology and Monsanto, a biotechnology firm. Its latest victim is Booz Allen Hamilton, a big consulting firm that advises America’s government on cybersecurity.  The group opposes Booz Allen’s work for the government in the fight against terrorism. This included an alleged plan to fill social-networking sites with “sock puppets”—fake commenters who would spread disinformation. The hackers responded by stealing from Booz Allen what they say are 90,000 military e-mail addresses and passwords.

Booz Allen does not seem to have done its homework—which is embarrassing for a security contractor working with classified materials. Critics say that it did not protect its servers sufficiently and used algorithms to encrypt data that can be easily cracked. The firm is also said to have left its databases open to “SQL injection”, a means of inserting malicious code. Anonymous says that the server it targeted “basically had no security measures in place”.

Excerpt, Cybersecurity, Hacked off, Economist, July 16, 2011, at 69