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UK.gov braces for Anonymous hacklash

Battle lines drawn up in cyberspace

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UK government websites have been warned to brace themselves for website attacks in the wake of the arrest of five Britons as part of an investigation into Anonymous this week.

Members of the loosely knit Anonymous hacking collective condemned the arrests, arguing that denial of services attacks are a legitimate protest tactic, comparable with staging a sit-in or picketing. In a statement (one-page PDF/153KB), the group criticised the police operation as disproportionate, describing it as "a serious declaration of war from yourself, the UK government, to us, Anonymous, the people".

Information security agency GovCertUK has taken this implied threat seriously, issuing an advisory urging government websites to prepare defences (two-page PDF/32.7kb) against possible attack.

We would like to make you aware of a threat issued by the Anonymous group in reaction to the five arrests made yesterday by the Metropolitan Police.

The threat was directed towards the UK government in an open letter by Anonymous on their website. This has since been circulated around many open source websites.

In light of this threat we would advise you to be vigilant against any new signs of DDoS activity you may encounter, and to notify us if such activity occurs.

In related developments, the five UK suspects in the case have been released on police bail until April, pending further inquiries. All five remain unnamed.

A Scotland Yard statement warns that those tempted to download attack software in order to participate in further DDoS attacks also risk arrest.

The arrest of five suspected Anonymous members on Thursday was accompanied by raids on the homes of 40 suspects by the FBI and follows a month after a 16-year-old Dutch youngster was arrested over an alleged denial of service attack against Visa and Mastercard in protest against their decision to suspend an account maintained by WikiLeaks. Scotland Yard confirmed it was investigating WikiLeaks last month in the wake of denial of service attacks against entertainment industry websites and others hassling torrent sites and file-sharers.

It's not clear if the latest round of arrests involve attacks on organisations opposed to file-sharers or those seen to be against controversial whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks.

Participants in both sets of attacks were invited to use an attack tool, called the Low Orbit Ion Cannon, which generates waves of junk traffic against targeted sites. By default, the application does nothing to disguise the IP addresses of participants. Logs from attacked servers would record this information, making it a straightforward task for police to request ISPs to disclose the real world addresses of suspects in such attacks. ®

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