Suspects in PayPal web attack not so anonymous after all

DDoS as civil disobedience

Some of the suspects accused of participating in a December attack organized by the Anonymous hacker collective that caused numerous service disruptions on PayPal were shocked to learn that the net isn't all that anonymous, or that it's illegal to impair other people's computers.

According to The New York Times, some of the 14 people charged with carrying out denial-of-service attacks on the eBay-owned payment service saw no need to cover their tracks because they didn't know what they were doing was a felony.

Among them was Keith Downey, a 26-year-old self-taught programmer from Jacksonville, Florida. Angered by PayPal's decision to stop processing donations to WikiLeaks, he elected to register his dismay by joining in the attacks using a home computer that he took no steps to anonymize. According to the NYT, he likened the web attack to college sit-ins of the 1970s and to Gandhi's civil disobedience movement against British rule in India.

With the seizure of his computer equipment by the FBI in January and his arrest last week, he is now "patching together construction work to make ends meet" and trying to figure out how to cover the cost of traveling to California to attend a court hearing scheduled for September.

Another suspect, Santa Rosa, California-based Drew Phillips, admits being sympathetic to the attacks on PayPal but says he didn't actually participate, even if he joined some of the Anonymous chats and downloaded the Low Orbit Ion Cannon used to bombard PayPal with more traffic than it could handle.

"I didn't have anything to hide," he told the NYT. "I didn't feel I had to mask my IP address. What would anyone want with me?"

The NYT described the suspects as "mostly in their 20s and living unremarkable lives in small towns and suburbs across the country." They include "a college student, an ex-Marine, a couple of self-taught programmers, even a young man whose only celebrity before last week's arrest was that he dressed up as Harry Potter for a movie premier."

They have been charged with conspiracy and intentional damage to a protected computer and face a maximum of 15 years in federal prison, fines, and restitution. ®

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