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'Anonymous' hacker pleads guilty to 2008 attack on Scientology sites

May 11, 2009 |  5:53 pm
Scientology
"Anonymous" protester at a February 2008 anti-Scientology march in Hollywood. Credit: David Sarno / Los Angeles Times

Remember that cyber-attack on Church of Scientology websites those many moons ago? It was an early volley in the brief but memorable war between the church and a group of young Internet denizens who called themselves "Anonymous."  

Since then, the anti-Scientology movement has mostly petered out, but today a spark traveled through its old circuitry when a 19-year-old New Jersey man admitted having launched the January 2008 attack, which sent Scientology sites down for part of a day.

According to a news release from the Justice Department's Los Angeles office, Dmitriy Guzner of Verona, N.J., pleaded guilty to computer hacking charges related to the 2008 distributed denial of service attack (DDOS) on Scientology websites. That's where hackers get so many zombie computers to visit a site that the server overload becomes crippling and the site crashes.

The department's release mentions that Guzner said he "participated in the attack because he considered himself a member of an underground group called 'Anonymous.' " But when asked whether Guzner was one of several participants or the main culprit, agency spokesman Thom Mrozek responded, "He was the guy."

Mrozek also noted that the church was cooperative in the investigation.

The 2008 protests against Scientology were mostly peaceful assemblages of masked youths, but there were instances in which the church reported bomb threats against it, and even white powder mailed to one or more of its locations. At the time, the FBI said it was investigating those allegations as well*.

Guzner is set to be sentenced in August and faces a statutory maximum of 10 years in prison.

Updated, 7:03 p.m.: Commenters point to this May 2008 video (minute 1:20) where a CNN anchor reported that the FBI did not expect that charges would be filed regarding alleged bomb or death threats.

-- David Sarno

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