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Greek police cuff Anonymous spokesman suspect

First 'cyberwar' dismissed as tech hit-and-run vandalism

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Greek police have reportedly arrested a web designer whose name appeared in a press release issued by online hacktivists Anonymous last week.

The PDF-format press release outlined Anonymous' loose-knit structure and immediate objectives of launching online attacks against organisations that have severed commercial ties with Wikileaks. The properties of the document contained the name of the author, Alex Tapanaris, who has now become a suspect in the case.

Dutch police have previously arrested two other suspected members of Anonymous, including a 16-year-old who allegedly used the group's LOIC packet-flooding tool to attack Mastercard.

By default, the LOIC tool does not disguise the origins of IP packets and the same less-than-stellar approach to anonymity would seem to go for statements issued on behalf of Anonymous.

Anonymous is a loosely-knit group whose membership and objectives shift over time. Several spokespeople have come forward to speak for the collective since it came to mainstream media attention with its support for Wikileaks and attacks against Mastercard, PayPal et al over the last week or so. These attacks probably are best understood as an offshoot of the much earlier Operation:Payback campaign against entertainment industry websites that started back in September.

Security blogger Gary Warner has compiled an informative analysis on the origins and psychological motives of Anonymous here.

Thus far, distributed denial service attacks against targeted websites have been the main stock-in-trade of Anonymous. The tactic involves peppering websites with junk requests to such an extent that systems are unable to service genuine visitors, causing sites to become unavailable. Meanwhile patriot hackers opposed to Anonymous have launched counter-attacks on websites used by Anonymous.

All this has sparked excited talk of "cyberwar", but the reality is that attacks from either side are neither particularly fierce nor sophisticated, according to an analysis by DDoS mitigation firm Arbor Networks.

“Despite the thousands of tweets, press articles and endless hype, most of the attacks over the last week were both relatively small and unsophisticated," said Arbor Networks’ chief scientist Craig Labovitz. "In short, other than the intense media scrutiny, the attacks were unremarkable."

"So ultimately, I’d suggest the last week of DDoS attacks surrounding Wikileaks supporters and opponents falls far short of a “cyberwar”. While it makes a far less sexy headline, cyber-vandalism may be a more apt description." ®

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