Anonymous Eyes Mexican Cartel Attack

Security experts warned that the hacktivist group's plan to name people who assisted the cartels would lead to their executions.

Mathew J. Schwartz, Contributor

October 31, 2011

3 Min Read

Members of the hacktivist group Anonymous on Monday appeared to call off an attack, dubbed "OpCartel," aimed at taking down Mexican cartels.

"Anonymous cancels crackdown on Mexican drug cartel," tweeted Sm0k34n0n. "We cannot risk our partners."

But a Twitter post from LulzSec leader Sabu in direct reply to Sm0k34n0n appeared to dismiss the cancellation, or at least imply that there would be future anti-cartel efforts. "Thanks for pushing the op, but now that you've cleaned your hands of it--move on with your life," said Sabu. In another post, he said that "#OpCartel is very much alive and like I said to others in private our war is on corruption on both sides of the spectrum," referring to the war on drugs including both the Drug Enforcement Administration as well as the Mexican cartels.

The Anonymous operation came about after one of its members was allegedly kidnapped earlier this month by Los Zetas Cartel. The drug cartel, thought to be the second-largest one in Mexico, is also regarded as the country's most dangerous and brutal. Notably, the Zetas were the first cartel to standardize the practice of beheading their targets.

[From Wall Street to child porn sites, Anonymous has been busy. ReadAnonymous Attacks Child Pornography Websites.]

Anonymous had threatened to publish the names and addresses of journalists, taxi drivers, and police officers who allegedly helped with the Zetas. "You made a huge mistake by taking one of us. Release him, and if anything happens to him, you will always remember this upcoming November 5th." To make the point, the video cuts to footage of exploding buildings. That's lifted from the closing moments (spoiler alert) of V For Vendetta, when the protagonist--sporting the mask since made famous by Anonymous--succeeded in blowing up the Houses of Parliament in the movie's rendering of a totalitarian Britain.

On Friday, global intelligence research firm Stratfor characterized the Anonymous threat to publish the details of people who help the cartels as "a move that likely will result in violence," not least because it predicted the cartel would kill anyone so named publicly.

Regardless of whether Anonymous does or doesn't publish cartel-related information, it hasn't gone quiet in Mexico. On Monday, a Twitter post pointed to Anonymous Mexico's compromise and defacement of a website created by Gustavo Rosario, the former attorney general for the state of Tabasco. The defaced website included an image of numerous pumpkins and a four-word message: "Gustavo Rosario is Zeta." In fact, Rosario had created the website precisely to counter assertions that he was complicit with organized criminals, including the Zetas.

As the cartel-driven violence in Mexico continues to escalate, people have turned to social networks to caution each other about attacks that are underway and share information about crime in general. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Mexican papers routinely avoid reporting on crime.

But the state of Veracruz recently passed a law--Tabasco is considering a similar measure-- that outlawed the use of social media in instances where it undermined public order. The law came about after two people falsely reported that gunmen had attacked a school, causing mass chaos.

Laws or no, anyone who uses social media to report on crime can face extreme danger. Notably, journalist Maria Elizabeth Macias Castro--better known as "the girl from Laredo," which is the pseudonym she used to report on crime via a website and Twitter account--was last month found beheaded, and with a message suggesting she had been killed by the Zetas.

About the Author(s)

Mathew J. Schwartz


Mathew Schwartz served as the InformationWeek information security reporter from 2010 until mid-2014.

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