Alleged hacker arrested in FBI sting on PayPal attacks faces Internet ban, while hacktivist group calls for PayPal boycott.

Mathew J. Schwartz, Contributor

July 27, 2011

3 Min Read

Prosecutors are seeking to block a man--accused of participating in Anonymous-led attacks against PayPal's website--from having access to the Internet.

The defendant in question, Christopher Wayne Cooper, 23, aka "Anthrophobic," had agreed to "the installation of computer monitoring software by the FBI on all personal computers," according to a motion filed last week under the auspices of Kenyen R. Brown, the United States attorney for the southern district of Alabama.

But in its motion, the U.S. Attorney's Office sought a change in course, saying that its previous approach was infeasible. "Because there is no practical method for appropriately monitoring the defendant's computer usage, the United States requests that the conditions of release be modified to require that the defendant not use or have access to the Internet or any Internet-capable device."

According to the motion, "while the FBI has the capability to monitor computer activity, such tools and techniques are neither approved nor appropriate for use in the context of monitoring a defendant on pretrial release as contemplated by the court's order."

The U.S. Attorney's Office said the mix-up had to do with differing trial procedures between Alabama and California. According to the motion, "the request and representations made during the initial hearing were passed along from the lead prosecutors and agents in California, where pretrial procedures differ substantially from those in this district." Cooper has been ordered to appear in federal court in California on September 1, to face charges filed there.

Cooper was one of 14 people arrested by FBI agents on July 19 on charges relating to an Anonymous-led effort aimed at disrupting PayPal's website via distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. That same day, authorities also announced the arrest of two other people, one on charges of funneling to LulzSec documents describing AT&T's forthcoming wireless network rollout. The other was charged with hacking into the Tampa Bay InfraGard website and uploading three files.

While the use of monitoring software is highly controversial, courts have upheld Internet access bans for defendants, even for extended periods of time, according to Kaspersky Lab's Threatpost.

Anonymous, via its Operation Payback and a DDoS tool dubbed Low Orbit Ion Cannon, has been sporadically attacking PayPal's website in retaliation for its ceasing to accept donations to WikiLeaks. But while the Anonymous attacks generated headlines, security experts said that they had little effect against targeted businesses.

Now, according to, FBI investigators are working their way through a list, provided by PayPal, of the 1,000 IP addresses that generated the most DDoS traffic against the PayPal website. The 14 arrests apparently stem from that PayPal-provided information.

To date, the FBI's arrests--security experts said only low-level or mid-level participants appear to have been arrested--don't seem to have stopped Anonymous, despite the threat of charges involving up to 15 years of jail time and a $500,000 fine. In fact, Anonymous has recently called for a boycott of PayPal. "You sue our people for $500.000 ... it'll take you years to get a fraction of that. Let us show you what we can do in one day," said a message posted to an Anonymous Twitter feed.

In a statement posted to Pastebin on Wednesday, signed in the name of Anonymous, AntiSec, and LulzSec (which appears to be defunct), the group also criticized the arrests. "What the FBI needs to learn is that there is a vast difference between adding one's voice to a chorus and digital sit-in with Low Orbit Ion Cannon, and controlling a large botnet of infected computers. And yet both of these are punishable with exactly the same fine and sentence."

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About the Author(s)

Mathew J. Schwartz


Mathew Schwartz served as the InformationWeek information security reporter from 2010 until mid-2014.

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