Threat Management, Vulnerability Management

Anonymous ready to continue with Operation Cartel


A plan by hacktivist group Anonymous to expose the details of people connected to one of the world's most dangerous drug cartels is back on after being briefly canceled, according to a video posted Wednesday by Barrett Brown, who regularly communicates with the hacker collective.

"This was canceled earlier this morning by one of the people involved," said Brown, a former spokesman for Anonymous. "Shortly thereafter, the assembled people held a vote and decided nonethless to go ahead with the operation."

Brown's video shed some light on the nature of the risky undertaking, dubbed Operation Cartel, or OpCartel, which was hatched last month as a means to avenge the kidnapping of an Anonymous member by the powerful Zetas drug cartel. The Anonymous member reportedly was abducted in the eastern Mexican state of Veracuz while participating in an anti-cartel march.

"It's Mexicans themselves, including those in Veracruz, who have conceived [the operation] and are effectively running it, not a bunch of Americans," Brown said. "It's not some sterotypical comptuer geek sitting somewhere else in safety. These people are on the ground."

But some warn that such an operation can lead to injuries or death, as the Zetas have been known to murder their critics, including journalists.

"We have seen reports that [the] Zetas are deploying their own teams of computer experts to track those individuals involved in the online anti-cartel campaign, which indicates that the criminal group is taking the [Anonymous] campaign very seriously," intelligence firm Statfor wrote in a Tuesday report. "Those individuals involved face the risk of abduction, injury and death – judging by how [the] Zetas [have] dealt with threats in the past."

Sam Bowne, an instructor of ethical hacking at City College San Francisco, told on Wednesday that even though only a small subset of Anonymous members are reportedly involved in the operation, there could be major collateral damage.

"If Anon continues with this, they are going to get people killed and likely innocent people – other anons [the Zetas] can find or innocent people in Mexico who they accuse of being in the cartel," he said. "Anonymous has declared a gang war with a dangerous gang, and Anonymous is entirely unprepared for gang war."

But Brown said the mission is not too dissimilar to other anti-Zeta movements, and Anonymous members who are participating are trained. (He did not say how the hackers planned to retrieve information about the cartel).

"What we're doing is not fundamentally different from what many other Mexicans have done, rightfully in my mind, in response to these cartels," he said. "The fact of the matter is that this operation is going ahead whether or not I get involved, and that fundamentally there are lives in the balance here does not differentiate this operation from previous Anonymous operations."
Stratfor added in its dispatch: "This higher skill-set means that Anonymous could contribute to the effectiveness of the online struggle against the cartels or at least bring more publicity to the issue. It's important to remember that the U.S. has been engaging in its own electronic observation of the Mexican cartels for years. Anonymous likely won't be able to turn up more information than the U.S. government already has, but they are able to publicize more information than the U.S. government can."

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