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Leaked documents claim Anonymous as target of DDOS attacks by GCHQ

updated 01:52 pm EST, Wed February 5, 2014

Denial of Service attacks employed against hacking groups by UK intelligence agency

A spy unit under the control of the United Kingdom's intelligence services was used to attack the Anonymous and LulzSec hacking groups, according to GCHQ documents leaked by Edward Snowden. The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) used the unit to deploy distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks against the groups, a similar strategy employed by the hackers themselves.

The information received by NBC comes from a PowerPoint presentation for an NSA conference in 2012, naming the unit as the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group, or JTRIG. The DDOS attacks used by the group, called "Rolling Thunder" was used alongside other techniques to some considerable success, claiming to "scare away 80 percent of the users of Anonymous Internet chat rooms." The same chat rooms were used by the unit to identify those who had attacked government websites and pulled confidential data from others, with at least one individual sent to jail for their part in infiltrating PayPal.

Slide from leaked GCHQ presentation
Slide from leaked GCHQ presentation


JTRIG also dealt with "Active Covert Internet Operations" and "Covert Technical Operations," aside from the aforementioned activities. Phone jamming, e-mail account attacks and pretending to be the enemy in "false flag" operations were under the unit's remit, with the document stating GCHQ was increasing its usage of such tools in the future.

Sources of the report claim that authorities were worried after a spate of attacks on important websites, both corporate and governmental, in 2011, with the unit being one of a number of ways to respond. In the case of GCHQ, some found the activities of JTRIG were over and above what was appropriate, claiming the targets were teenagers, and that the attacks by the unit infringed on their freedom of speech. DOS attacks against Anonymous chat rooms also affected other Internet users, as sites hosted on the same servers or connections became either slow to access or were not accessible at all.

Slide from leaked GCHQ presentation
Slide from leaked GCHQ presentation


Gabriella Coleman, a professor at McGill University, said "Targeting Anonymous and hacktivists amounts to targeting citizens for expressing their political beliefs," going on to claim that the majority have rallied to the name to "engage in digital civil disobedience" rather than terrorism. Coleman estimates that out of a community of thousands of "Anons," a few dozen would have engaged in illegal activity.

Former head of the US National Counterterrorism Center Michael Leiter was more pragmatic about JTRIG's methods, suggesting that there should be limitations, but law enforcement and intelligence agents "must be able to pursue individuals who are going far beyond speech and into the realm of breaking the law; defacing and stealing private property that happens to be online."



By Electronista Staff
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