Anonymous attacks FBI website over Megaupload raids
AMERICAN government and entertainment industry websites have been crippled after the "hacktivist" group Anonymous launched a series of cyber attacks in retaliation for the closure of Megaupload.com.
The filesharing website, which allowed users to freely exchange large video and audio files, was closed overnight and its operators were charged with criminal copyright infringement. They are accused of deliberately ignoring requests from film and music firms to remove pirated material, while making more than $175m from membership fees and advertising.
Anonymous supporters attacked the websites of the Department of Justice, the FBI and Universal Music Group, among others. The hacktivists used a technique called a Distributed Denial of Service to overload their targets with web traffic and effectively force them offline.
The Twitter account @AnonymousIRC, one the most prominent of dozens associated with the "leaderless" group, taunted authorities.
“We sincerely hope you like your own medicine!,” it said in a comment directed at the FBI.
Twitter: AnonymousIRC - http://t.co/IG0U7PhR - you feel censored yet? We sincerely hope you like your own medicine! #Anonymous #OpMegaupload
The attacks on official websites were only briefly effective but Universal Music remains offline.
Security experts warned that Anonymous was using a new tactic that meant people might unknowingly participate in its attacks.
"In the past, Anonymous has encouraged supporters to install a program called LOIC, which allows computers to join in an attack on a particular website, blasting it with unwanted traffic," said Graham Cluley of Sophos.
"This change in tactic from Anonymous, which allows attacks to be launched by simply clicking on a link, means that internet users need to be extremely careful when clicking on unknown URLs or they could unwittingly be joining this latest zombie army."
It marks a further escalation of the battle between copyright holders, who say the film and music industries are being badly damaged by digital piracy, and those who oppose regulation of the internet.
This week saw an unprecedented protest against stricter enforcement of copyright online by major web organisations including Wikipedia, which made its English version inaccessible for 24 hours. The blackout was designed to galvanise opposition to Sopa and Pipa, two pieces of legislation under consideration in Congress that would make it easier to cut off pirate websites.
The action against Megaupload.com is being touted as one the biggest copyright cases in US history, but a Department of Justice official said the timing of the arrests and unsealing of the case were not related to the battle on Capitol Hill.
A federal court in Virginia ordered that 18 web address associated with Megaupload.com be seized. Some 20 search warrants were executed in the United States and eight other countries and about $50 million in assets were also seized.
The website acted as a “cyber locker”, allowing users to upload large files for others to download for free. Dozens of similar services exist, but Megaupload.com was the biggest.
Users could also pay at least $9.99 per month for a premium membership, to receive faster downloads. Megaupload.com boasted of accounting for four percent of all traffic on the internet and receiving 50 million visitors per day.
Megaupload.com even claimed support from popular artists including Will.I.am and Kanye West, who both appeared in a video promoting the website.
The two companies associated with Megaupload.com, as well as seven men who allegedly ran it, now, however, face charges of engaging in a racketeering conspiracy, conspiring to commit copyright infringement, conspiring to commit money laundering and criminal copyright infringement.
Four of the men, including Kim Dotcom, the alleged leader of the enterprise, were arrested yesterday in Auckland, New Zealand. A flamboyant 37-year-old German, Dotcom is also known as Kim Schmitz and Kim Tim Jim Vestor, and has several previous convictions for computer crimes. All the men face up to 20 years imprisonment.
The case against them alleges they did not respond to complaints of infringement by copyright holders and “and deliberately misrepresented to copyright holders that they had removed infringing content”.
“When notified by a rights holder that a file contained infringing content... the conspirators would disable only a single link to the file, deliberately and deceptively leaving the infringing content in place to make it seamlessly available to millions of users to access through any one of the many duplicate links,” the Department of Justice alleged.
It said the Metropolitan Police assisted in the investigation. A spokesman for the Met was not immediately able to say what help British authorities gave.