Spain Arrests Three Over ‘Anonymous’ Group’s Cyber-Attacks

Spanish police arrested three suspected members of the online hacking group Anonymous, which has taken credit for carrying out cyber-attacks on governments and companies including Sony Corp. (6758) and MasterCard Inc.

Anonymous hacked the websites of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA (BBVA), Spain’s second-biggest bank, and Enel SpA (ENEL), the Italian owner of Spanish power company Endesa, police said in a statement in Madrid today. The arrests follow similar actions against Anonymous in the U.S. and U.K. in December and January.

As part of Spain’s probe of the group, authorities had to overcome “complicated security measures taken by its members to protect its anonymity,” according to the police statement. Anonymous previously hacked the websites of the governments of Iran, Egypt, Libya and Algeria, police said.

Anonymous, composed of hundreds of hackers and activists in several countries, gained attention in December when it targeted EBay Inc.’s PayPal unit, Visa Inc. (V) and other companies deemed hostile to WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that published leaked U.S. military documents and diplomatic communications on its website.

The arrests will have “little overall impact” in slowing the group’s activities because many of the accused hackers are minors and are widely dispersed geographically, said John D’Arcy, an assistant professor of information-technology management at the University of Notre Dame.

‘A Couple of Regional People’

Barrett Brown, an unofficial spokesman for Anonymous, said the three people arrested were not part of the core leadership or among the members of the group who are skilled at hacking networks.

“They weren’t anybody major,” he said.

Brown said that while he still speaks to the media on behalf of Anonymous, he has reduced his participation after recent infighting among the group’s members.

“They captured a couple of regional people who were involved in Anonymous and got a server,” Brown said, referring to a computer used in cyber attacks against government websites that the Spanish policed seized in one of the suspects’ homes. “It’s not a server anyone is going to miss,” he said.

Spanish police since October have analyzed more than 2 million chat registration lines and Web pages used by the hacker group before reaching its leadership in Spain, according to the statement. The arrests were made in Barcelona, Valencia and Almeria, it said.

After local Spanish elections on May 22, the group attacked the websites of the country’s Congress, as well as the workers union UGT and police in Catalonia.

The hacking group in April said it would wage a cyber war against Tokyo-based Sony for trying to stop people from tinkering with the PlayStation 3. Sony Chairman Howard Stringer last month apologized to customers after more than 100 million user accounts were compromised and said Anonymous had attacked the websites of several Sony divisions.

Computers, Phones

A federal grand jury in San Jose, California, in February considered evidence collected by the FBI about Anonymous, including computers and mobile phones seized from suspected leaders as prosecutors probe the attacks.

London police in January arrested five males, including three teenagers, as part of a probe of corporate cyber attacks related to WikiLeaks. Hours later in the U.S., agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation executed 40 search warrants in a similar investigation.

The U.K. probe of so-called denial of service attacks was carried out in cooperation with law enforcement in Europe and the U.S., London police said at the time. The attacks require “minimal knowledge” and consist of “exhausting the resources of a computer,” London police said.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net

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