When Hacking Is the Smaller Crime

Here’s a fascinating article in the Yale Journal of International Affairs, by Paul Rexton Kan of the U.S. Army War College, about cyberwar between non-state agents — in this case, Anonymous versus Los Zetas, the Mexican drug cartel. Read the whole thing; here’s the first paragraph:

In the fall of 2011, two clandestine non-state groups—a hacktivist collective and a Mexican drug cartel—stared each other down in the digital domain, with potentially fatal real world consequences for both sides. Los Zetas, a Mexican drug trafficking organization composed of former members of Mexico’s Special Forces, kidnapped a member of Anonymous, the global hacking group, in Veracruz on October 6th. In retaliation, Anonymous threatened to publicize online the personal information of Los Zetas and their associates, from taxi drivers to high-ranking politicians, unless Los Zetas freed their abductee by November 5th. The release of this information on the Internet would have exposed members of Los Zetas to not only possible arrest by Mexican authorities, but also to assassination by rival cartels. Unconfirmed reports suggest that Los Zetas then attempted to “reverse hack” Anonymous to uncover some of its members and to threaten them with death. As a consequence, a few members of Anonymous sought to call off the operation and disavowed those members who wanted to go forward. With time running out and locked in a stalemate, Los Zetas released their kidnap victim on November 4th with an online warning that they would kill ten innocent people for each name that Anonymous might subsequently publicize. Anonymous called off its operation; each side appeared to step back from the brink.

(HT: LTC Scott Kelly)

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  1. Seminymous Coward says:

    Your suggestion to read the full article was quite fruitful. Chiefly, it revealed that the kidnapping of the Anonymous member wasn’t random but in reaction to existing Anonymous operations against Los Zetas. That wasn’t clear to me from the quote, and it changed the character of the whole story.

    Some of the terminology was quite odd, though. Phrases like “cyber-enabled social networking tools and sites” slipping in makes it hard to trust the other contents.

    A couple of other points stand out. Anonymous’ threat to release information was not actually illegal to enact (although of course they committed crimes to acquire the information). I was also disturbed by the seeming equivalence of Anonymous and Los Zetas to the author, in a moral or legal sense.

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