Some of the men indicted last week for allegedly taking part in the scores of denial-of-service attacks launched by hacktivist group Anonymous in 2010 don't fit the stereotype of a pajamas-wearing teen hacker causing havoc from mom's basement.
For example, The Verge has learned that defendant Phillip Simpson is a 28-year-old IT professional who works for a test-preparation service. Anthony Tadros, 22, is a student at the University of Connecticut, who ironically once worked as a security analyst for the school, according to his LinkedIn profile. Geoffrey Commander is 65 years old. And then there's Ryan Gubele, a 27-year-old who is a former contract employee for Amazon. In June, Gubele began working as a site reliability engineer for Twitter — and is currently still employed there.
"It's in my best interest not to answer any questions."
Last week, the US Department of Justice alleged in a 28-page indictment that Gubele and the other 12 defendants helped Anonymous, the hacktivist collective, disrupt or cause the collapse of web sites operated by Bank of America, MasterCard and multiple global antipiracy groups. Some of the companies were attacked for refusing to process donations made to WikiLeaks, the group that published leaked US diplomatic cables. Others came under fire for supporting antipiracy efforts. Anonymous dubbed the DDoS campaign Operation Payback.
In the indictment, federal prosecutors allege that it was Gubele who aided Anonymous by tracking the effectiveness of the group's attacks on the Motion Picture Association of America, the trade group for the Hollywood studios. They also accuse him of illegally accessing computer systems of at least one of the targets during Operation Payback, which began in September 2010 and ended the following January. The indictment doesn't say whether Gubele played any role in the December 2010 attack on Amazon. According to Gubele's LinkedIn profile, he began working for the web retailer in August 2010 and departed the same month that Operation Payback concluded.
Gubele and Simpson did not respond to interview requests. Twitter and Amazon declined to comment. Tadros, the security analyst, said in a text: "It's in my best interest not to answer any questions about my situation while the case is ongoing."
Feds likely want to send a message US law enforcement has begun cracking down on computer crime and appears to be making an extra effort to track Anonymous members, who consider themselves activists for social change and come from all over the globe. During the past decade, the group has hacked or launched denial of service attacks against the Church of Scientology, numerous governments, Sony, the New York Stock Exchange, and sites hosting child porn. While numerous arrests have been made, the percentage of Anonymous members tried for computer offenses is believed to be a tiny fraction of the group’s potential members. Nonetheless, the US government likely wants to send a message.