LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The group known as Anonymous said Saturday it hacked into some 70 mostly rural law enforcement websites in the United States, a data breach that at least one local police chief said leaked sensitive information about an ongoing investigation.
The loose-knit international hacking collective posted a cache of data to the Internet early Saturday, including emails stolen from officers, tips which appeared to come from members of the public, credit card numbers and other information.
Anonymous said it had stolen 10 gigabytes worth of data in retaliation for arrests of its sympathizers in the U.S. and Britain.
Tim Mayfield, a police chief in Gassville, Ark., said some of the material posted online – including pictures of teenage girls in their swimsuits – was sent to him as part of an ongoing investigation.
Mayfield’s comments were the first indication that the hack might be serious. Since news of some kind of cyberattack first filtered out less than a week ago, various police officials said they were unaware of the hacking or dismissed it as trivial.
Though many of the leaked emails appeared benign, some of the stolen material seen by the AP carried sensitive information, including tips about suspected crimes and profiles of gang members.
The emails were mainly from sheriffs’ offices in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Mississippi. Many of the websites were operated by a Mountain Home, Ark., media services hosting company, and most, if not all, were either unavailable on Saturday or had been wiped clean of content. The company, Brooks-Jeffrey Marketing, declined to comment.
In a statement, Anonymous said it had leaked “a massive amount of confidential information that is sure to (embarrass), discredit and incriminate police officers across the US.” The group said it hoped the disclosures would “demonstrate the inherently corrupt nature of law enforcement using their own words.”
The group did not say specifically why these sheriffs’ departments were targeted, but Anonymous members have increasingly been pursued by law enforcement in the United States and elsewhere following a string of high-profile data thefts and denial of service attacks – operations that block websites by flooding them with traffic.
Last month, the FBI and British and Dutch officials made 21 arrests, many of them related to the group’s attacks on PayPal Inc., which has been targeted over its refusal to process donations to WikiLeaks.