General Crime

* Hacktivists arrested on charges of leading a cyber attack on San Jose-based PayPal Inc.

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Fourteen so-called “hacktivists” were arrested around the country today on charges of leading a cyber attack on San Jose-based PayPal Inc. as payback for its suspension of WikiLeaks’ donation accounts, the U.S. Department of Justice announced today.The 14 members of an online group called “Anonymous” were indicted by a federal grand jury in San Jose on July 13. The indictment accusing them of conspiring to damage PayPal’s computers was filed under seal and unsealed after today’s arrests.

Melinda Haag, the U.S. attorney for Northern California, said the arrests were made in California, Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio and Washington, D.C. According to the indictment, the attack on PayPal came after WikiLeaks, a nonprofit group dedicated to making secret government and corporation documents public, released thousands of classified U.S. State Department cables on its website in November.

PayPal, an online payment service, then suspended accounts through which WikiLeaks received donations, an action that WikiLeaks termed an attempt “to economically strangle WikiLeaks.” In retaliation, the members of Anonymous sought to freeze or slow down PayPal’s operations by bombarding its website with packets of information and requests, the indictment said. The practice of hacking a website for political reasons is sometimes known as hactivism.

Anonymous called the coordinated attacks “Operation Revenge Assange,” according to the indictment, in a reference to Wikileaks leader Julian Assange. The defendants are each charged with one count of conspiring to damage a computer used in interstate commerce and one count of intentionally damaging such a computer. The defendants include Christopher Wayne “Anthrophobic” Cooper, 23; Joshua John Covelli, 26, nicknamed “Absolem” and “Toxic;” Keith Wilson Downey, 26; Mercedes Renee Haefer, 20, also known as “No” and “MMMM;” and Donald “Ananon” Husband, 29.

Others are Vincent Charles Kershaw, 27, known as “Trivette,” “Triv” and “Reaper;” Ethan Miles, 33; James C. Murphy, 36; Drew Alan Phillips, 26, nicknamed “Drew010;” Jeffrey Puglisi, 28, known as “Jeffer,” “Jefferp” and “Ji;” Daniel Sullivan, 22; Tracy Ann Valenzuela, 42; and Christopher Quang Vo, 22.The name of the 14th defendant is currently sealed. The conspiracy count carries a possible maximum sentence of five years in prison, if the defendants are convicted, and the charge of damaging a computer has a possible maximum sentence of 10 years.

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