A grand jury in Virginia has indicted 13 men suspected of launching distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against the websites of major companies, including Visa, MasterCard and Bank of America.
All were charged on Thursday with one count of conspiracy to intentionally cause damage to a protected computer. The charges stem from their alleged role in a “worldwide conspiracy” dubbed Operation Payback by hacktivist group Anonymous.
The indictment (PDF), unsealed in a U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., charged the men, aged 21 to 65, of “caus[ing] significant damage to victims,” including the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the United States Copyright Office of the Library of Congress, Visa, MasterCard and Bank of America.
The defendants allegedly targeted the websites between Sept. 16, 2010 and Jan. 2, 2011 in a widespread call to arms in defense of WikiLeaks, which had been subjected to condemnation by U.S. officials after its release of hundreds of secret diplomatic cables, which were redacted to reduce harm and protect the innocent.
In a move of Anonymous-led solidarity, the group knocked offline numerous, high-profile websites that as a result of the published cables cut ties with WikiLeaks.
To DDoS the sites, the group used and, in some cases, “publicized and distributed to other Anonymous members,” a Low Orbit Ion Cannon – an open-source network stress tool that can double as a program that sends large chunks of traffic to overwhelm web servers, the indictment said.
In total, Operation Payback impacted at least 10 “protected” computers, causing at least $5,000 in damages, court documents alleged.
The indictment named the 13 defendants charged for their participation: Dennis Collins, Jeremy Heller, Zhiwei “Jack” Chen, Joshua Phy, Ryan Gubele, Robert Whitfield, Anthony Tadros, Geoffrey Commander, Phillip Simpson, Austen Stamm, Timothy McClain, Wade Williams and Thomas Bell.