The Italian Almanac


Under Attack

Italian police apprehended the leader and several group members of acomputer hacker cell in Italy tied to Anonymous, a digital activism umbrella group linked to numerous high-profile cyber attacks. Investigators have charged 15 people, five of whom were minors, after conducting 32 raids across the country and one in Switzerland, confiscating dozens of computers and other equipment. Police said that the leader of the group was a 26-year-old Swiss-Italian who went by the nickname of "Phre".

The cell is accused of carrying out attacks on the Italian Senate, House and central government, as well as targeting other Italian organizations such as AGCOM, the national communications regulatory body; energy giants ENEL and ENI; state broadcaster RAI; and Mediaset, the country's largest commercial broadcaster, owned by Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Anonymous came to world prominence last December when thousands of supporters downloaded its attack software to defend WikiLeaks, the whistle-blowing website founded by Julian Assange. A group claiming to be connected to Anonymous took responsibility for hacking the Fox News Twitter account to say that American President Barak Obama had been assassinated while campaigning in Iowa. Many Anonymous affiliates have taken revenge on the websites of companies, organizations, and government bodies they feel have unfairly treated Assange and WikiLeaks, which released hundreds of thousands of confidential cables about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the inner-workings of US diplomacy around the globe.

A typical cyber-assault from Anonymous is called a denial-of-service attack, in which hackers clog a website with too much activity, either shutting it down or rendering its services virtually unusable. MasterCard's website received a denial-of-service attack on December 8 after it had stopped processing donations to WikiLeaks. PayPal, Visa and a legal office prosecuting Assange suffered similar attacks as part of what Anonymous called Operation Payback.

The Italian cell had carried out dozens of attacks since January. Police are still pursuing around 30 suspects.