A takedown of the file-sharing site Megaupload led to the US Department of Justice being hit by the hacktivist group Anonymous last night.
The justice department of the FBI announced that seven individuals and two corporations (Megaupload Limited and Vestor Limited) had been charged "with running an international organised criminal enterprise allegedly responsible for massive worldwide online piracy of numerous types of copyrighted works through Megaupload.com and other related sites". They are alleged to have generated more than $175m and caused more than half a billion dollars in harm to copyright owners.
In the same week as a large number of websites went dark in protest at the SOPA and PIPA bills, the FBI said that this was among the largest criminal copyright cases ever brought by the US.
The seven alleged members of what it called "the Mega conspiracy" were named as:
- Finn Batato, 38, a citizen and resident of Germany, who is the chief marketing officer;
- Julius Bencko, 35, a citizen and resident of Slovakia, who is the graphic designer;
- Sven Echternach, 39, a citizen and resident of Germany, who is the head of business development;
- Mathias Ortmann, 40, a citizen of Germany and resident of both Germany and Hong Kong, who is the chief technical officer, co-founder and director;
- Andrus Nomm, 32, a citizen of Estonia and resident of both Turkey and Estonia, who is a software programmer and head of the development software division;
- and Bram van der Kolk, aka Bramos, 29, a Dutch citizen and resident of both the Netherlands and New Zealand, who oversees programming and the underlying network structure for the Mega conspiracy websites.
The individuals each face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on the charge of conspiracy to commit racketeering, five years on the charge of conspiracy to commit copyright infringement, 20 years on the charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and five years on each of the substantive charges of criminal copyright infringement.
The FBI alleged that Megaupload was structured to discourage the vast majority of its users from using it for long-term or personal storage by automatically deleting content that was not regularly downloaded, while a rewards programme would provide users with financial incentives to upload popular content and drive web traffic to the site.
In response, Anonymous has targeted the FBI and US Department of Justice websites. In a statement posted at the Anonops website, it said that "within minutes of the site being shut down, and DoJ releasing its statement, Anonymous sprang into action and started taking down a ton of sites, including websites for the DoJ, the US Copyright Office, Universal Music, the RIAA, the MPAA and a bunch of other sites".
Former FBI special agent and cyber security commentator E.J. Hilbert said on his Twitter feed that the attacks occurred "not even an hour later". He later said that distributed denial-of-service tactics had been used.
Speaking to RT.com, Anonymous operative Barrett Brown warned more attacks would be made in protest at SOPA.
Ross Brewer, vice-president and managing director for international markets at LogRhythm, said: “If it's this easy for hacktivists to take down the websites of security-conscious law enforcement agencies like the FBI, then surely no organisation can afford to be complacent about their cyber security? Anonymous's methods, a series of DDoS attacks that overwhelm web servers, may be crude when compared to more sophisticated techniques, but they are certainly effective and provide this hacking collective with the publicity they crave.”
Cyber security expert Paul Mutton said on his Twitter feed that Megaupload accounted for four per cent of all internet traffic.