Thirteen defendants pleaded guilty in federal court in San Jose on Friday to charges related to their involvement in the cyber-attack of PayPal’s website as part of the group Anonymous. One of the defendants also pleaded guilty to the charges arising from a separate cyber-attack on the website of Santa Cruz County.
According to the plea agreements and statements made in court, in late November 2010, WikiLeaks released a large amount of classified United States State Department cables on its website. Citing violations of the PayPal terms of service, and in response to WikiLeaks’ release of the classified cables, PayPal suspended WikiLeaks’ accounts such that WikiLeaks could no longer receive donations via PayPal. WikiLeaks’ website declared that PayPal’s action “tried to economically strangle WikiLeaks.”
The plea agreements further state that, in retribution for PayPal’s termination of WikiLeaks’ donation account, Anonymous coordinated and executed DDoS attacks against PayPal’s website. Anonymous referred to these co-ordinated attacks on PayPal as “Operation Avenge Assange.”
The defendants who pleaded guilty are:
- Christopher Cooper, dob 10/21/87, aka “Anthrophobic,” Elberta, Alabama
- Joshua Covelli, dob 1/10/85, aka “Absolem, and, “Toxic,” Fairborn, Ohio
- Keith Downey, dob 11/7/84, Jacksonville, Florida
- Mercedes Haefer, dob 6/21/91, aka “No,” and “MMMM,” Las Vegas, Nevada
- Donald Husband, dob 8/14/81, aka “Ananon,” Fairfield, California
- Vincent Kershaw, dob 2/23/84, aka “Trivette,” “Triv,” and “Reaper,” Fort Collins, Colorado
- Ethan Miles, dob 9/1/77, Flagstaff, Arizona
- James Murphy, dob 11/15/74, Baldwin Park, California
- Drew Phillips, dob 4/15/85, aka “Drew010,” Santa Rosa, California
- Jeffrey Puglisi, dob 2/19/83, aka “Jeffer,” “Jefferp,” and “Ji,” Clinton Township, Michigan
- Daniel Sullivan, dob 6/29/89, Camarillo, California
- Tracy Valenzuela, dob 2/11/69, Napa, California
- Christopher Quang Vo, dob 5/16/89, Attleboro, Massachusetts
With the exception of Valenzuela, Phillips and Miles, each of the defendants pleaded guilty to one count of Conspiracy and one count of Intentional Damage to a Protected Computer. Defendant Valenzuela pleaded guilty to one count of Reckless Damage to a Protected Computer. Defendants Phillips and Miles were permitted to plead guilty to only one count each of Intentional Damage to a Protected Computer.
Defendant Joshua Covelli also pleaded guilty to executing a DDoS attack (with another defendant, presently a fugitive) against the Santa Cruz County web server, admitting that it was in retaliation for a statute enacted by the City of Santa Cruz.
The defendants are currently released on bond.
But there are some who are not satisfied with the plea agreement.
“Currently we see thousands of small scale DDoS attacks occurring every day around the world to muzzle the free speech of someone else. Often the victims are smaller websites that do not make the news when they are attacked and do not have the financial resources to defend themselves. Sophisticated cyberattack tools have made it very easy for anyone to launch a crippling DDoS attack on any website for any reason,” commented Chris Risley, Defense.Net CEO.
“What concerns me is when we see this illegal activity mischaracterized by some as legitimate. Pleading guilty to a felony and paying a $5,000 fine is not a victory for hacker claims that DDoS is free speech. Their pleas demonstrate it’s a crime. That crime is muzzling the free speech of others.”