Tactical Analyst Ben West discusses online activists Anonymous' continued efforts against Mexican drug cartels and the cartels' responses.
A member of the online activist group, Anonymous, released a video statement October 31 stating that it will continue to search for and publicize sensitive data about Mexican criminal organizations despite the physical threat of doing so. Based upon past examples, the latest Anonymous campaign against Los Zetas could spill over into the real world, resulting in violence and deaths as Los Zetas target a new group. Online media has been in conflict with Mexican criminal and drug organizations for some time now. Journalists are known to be targets of the cartels and plenty have been killed in the past. Bloggers are also included in the online media campaign against the cartels, but they have typically not been targeted as much — likely because the information they post has not had as much of an impact on cartel operations as the journalists have. However, that could be changing with the addition of Anonymous to the anti-cartel online media campaign in Mexico. Throughout August and September of this year four people with connections to anti-cartel blog websites have been attacked. · Two individuals killed and hung from a bridge in Nuevo Laredo with signs warning not to post on blogs. · A girl found beheaded in Nuevo Laredo who had contributed to anti-cartel blogs in the past. · Additionally, an Anonymous member claimed that a volunteer was abducted by Los Zetas while distributing pamphlets in Veracruz. Anonymous has conducted successful Distributed Denial of Service Attacks on institutions such as Visa and MasterCard and has stolen sensitive information from HB Gary Federal in 2011 and subsequently publicized internal emails from that group. It brings together a group of individuals with a higher skill-set and sense of operational security than the less savvy anti-cartel bloggers already active in Mexico. This higher skill-set means that Anonymous could contribute to the effectiveness of the online struggle against the cartels or at least bring more publicity to the issue. It’s important to remember that the U.S. has been engaging in its own electronic observation of the Mexican cartels for years. Anonymous likely won’t be able to turn up more information than the U.S. government already has, but they are able to publicize more information than the U.S. government can. If Anonymous is able to increase the effectiveness of online operations seeking to expose cartel activities then that makes them and other anti-cartel bloggers in Mexico much higher profile targets than before. Anonymous is not an organization. It's important to remember, it is a loose association of individuals. It’s not the group itself then, but the individuals involved, who become targets of the cartels. Since we have seen evidence of cartels employing their own computer scientists to engage in cybercrime, it is logical to conclude that the cartels likely have individuals working to track anti-cartel bloggers and hackers. Those individuals involved thus face the risk of abduction, injury and death — judging by how Los Zetas have dealt with threats in the past. Editor's Note: This transcript has been updated to clarify that we do not have evidence that Zeta computer scientists are working on finding the Anonymous hackers specifically.