FBI launches investigation of Operation Payback

Anonymous seemed to be floating along well on their wave of DDoS attacks against the websites of anti-piracy advocates, but it looks like the US Federal Bureau of Investigation has fired a cannonball that could soon sink their pirate ship.

A report from CNET indicates that the FBI has launched an investigation into the 7-week series of at least 24 Operation Payback DDoS attacks that were carried out against websites operated by the RIAA, MPAA, The British Phonographic Industry, and other similar groups around the world. The actions were carried out to raise awareness to the group’s cause of promoting the freedom of sharing information and preventing the further encroachment of copyright laws.

Sources indicate that the FBI began to ramp up their probe of the attacks after the DDoS attack that was carried out last week against the US Copyright website. That attack, the first against a US government agency, rendered the copyright.gov website completely inaccessible for at least half an hour and slowed the site for several hours thereafter.

The effects on copyright.gov were mild compared to what other sites experienced. At one point the RIAA’s website was down for three full days, while both ACS:Law and Associação do Comércio Audiovisual de Portugal (ACAPOR) ended up having their email databases leaked and posted online in events related to the attacks against them. There’s also no doubt that Gene Simmons of Kiss will be talking to FBI agents about his own DDoS experiences with Anonymous after he spoke out against piracy at a music industry conference.

Operation Payback recently announced that they would be taking a break from their attacks for a while, which indicates that they are likely aware of the FBI probe into their activities. The question now is how good of a job the members of Anonymous have actually done at keeping their identities shielded during the attacks. The penalties they could face include prison time and hefty fines, as indicated by the sentencing this week of a former University of Akron student who carried out DDoS attacks on conservative political figures and his school.

I’ve got to say that I’m sad to see this investigation commencing, though I knew it was inevitable. While I didn’t agree with some of the tactics Anonymous used to get their message across, it was good to see a grass roots vigilante group emerge to stand up for their freedoms. But maybe this doesn’t mark the end of Operation Payback. Maybe, just maybe, they still have a few tricks up their collective sleeves.