Suspected 'Anonymous' member appears in court

July 21, 2011 7:18:48 PM PDT
A Bay Area woman caught up in a national internet hacking raid appeared in federal court on Thursday.

Tracy Venezuela said off-camera that she is not dangerous and not affiliated with any group, including the infamous "Anonymous" hacking collective. Still, a federal judge ordered her not to use the internet except when communicating with her attorney after Venezuela entered a not guilty plea in court on Thursday.

Venezuela is charged with conspiracy and intentional damage to a protected computer. She is one of fourteen people the Justice Department accused of belonging to "Anonymous," a group that launched cyber attacks against government websites and online services including Paypal while pledging their sympathy to the whistleblower website Wikileaks.

Online security experts say "hactivists" have a different set of motives compared to other cyber criminals.

"Cyber criminals are really a danger to the home user and consumer," said McAfee's Joris Evers. "Hacktivists are just out there to make a point."

Many of the defendants have online nicknames, such as "reaper" and "Toxic." Suspected members of Anonymous have been arrested across the country and around the world.

"If you're a younger and you're just out of college, and you really are a true believer in the Wikileaks way of life, then why not sign up? It's probably a more interesting than your day job," said CNET cyber-security reporter Declan McCullagh.

The Anonymous hackers justify their criminal actions by saying they want to expose secrets and government corruption, according to Kirk Hanson with the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

"It appears that they are still motivated by the same desires, simply to create chaos, and now they've wrapped it in a kind of morally-defensible mission of revealing secret data," Hanson said.

Security experts say the cyber attacks do take a certain level of computer knowledge and sophistication.

"The things that people associated with Anonymous or that Anonymous have done are not simple child's play," Evers said. "They have done some significant work and they're not unsophisticated."

All fourteen defendants suspected of being Anonymous members have been ordered to appear in federal court on September 1. If convicted, each suspect could face 15 years in prison.


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