Earlier this week, Italian police arrested 15 people and performed more than 30 searches across the country, according to la Repubblica, Italy's second-largest daily newspaper. All of the individuals arrested were between the ages of 15 and 28 years old, and five of them were under the age of 18.
The arrests were made by the country's postal and telecommunications police, who handle communications-related investigations, including hacking, credit card fraud, and child pornography.
At the behest of Italian authorities, police in Switzerland also arrested an Italian man, 26, and seized his computers. Authorities allege that he led the group of Anonymous participants arrested in Italy, directing their activities via Facebook, Twitter, as well as chat sites, and then launching distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS) via servers--some leased--located outside Italy. Antonio Apruzzese, director of Italy's postal and telecommunications police, told la Repubblica, that the group's actions had created serious economic damages, having targeted a number of Italian businesses, including power companies Eni and Enel, multinational conglomerate Finmeccanica, media group Mediaset, and broadcaster RAI.
Shortly after the arrests, hackers released a data dump of administrator usernames, passwords, as well as tax codes, for 18 Italian universities, reported la Repubblica. Authorities said it was unclear whether the incident was meant to serve as revenge for the Anonymous arrests.
As the arrests illustrate, while there have been numerous Anonymous-driven attacks against websites based in the United States, participants also have been busy at work abroad. Indeed, the Italian crackdown follows last month's arrests in Spain of three suspected Anonymous members who are accused of launching attacks against Sony--prior to the PlayStation Network hack--as well as financial institutions and government agencies. According to Italian authorities, the Anonymous members in Italy and Spain had been supporting each other's attacks.
The loose-knit Anonymous hacking collective initially coalesced to battle groups perceived to be opposed to WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange. At one point, a website devoted to the group described it as "an anonymous, decentralized movement which fights against censorship and copywrong." Offshoots of the group have included LulzSec, which gained notoriety for a 50-day attack spree that hacked businesses and government agencies using well-known Web application vulnerabilities, as well a botnet-driven DDoS attacks. In addition, many recent attacks have been carried out under the banner of Antisec, formed by Anonymous and LulzSec, before it faded away.
While some Anonymous participants have been arrested for their participation in online attacks, Assange has managed to avoid charges related to WikiLeaks publishing massive troves of confidential documents leaked from governments and businesses. But he is still fighting extradition to Sweden, where he faces charges of rape and sexual assault. While Assange had inked a reported $1.5 million "tell all" book deal, which he said was critical for funding his legal defense fund, on Thursday, the Guardian quoted anonymous sources who said that the deal, at least in its current form, had fallen through over Assange's fears that what he said in the book might be used against him by U.S. prosecutors eager to charge him with terrorism offenses.
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