Italian police track down hacker group

Italian police have identified six members of a hacker group charged with attacking thousands of Web sites in 62 countries, replacing official home pages with anti-globalization slogans, finance police officials said Tuesday. The group is one of the most important to be discovered in terms of the number and significance of its targets, officials said.

The hackers, all students between the ages of 15 and 23, began their attacks last July during the G8 summit in Genoa, which led to anti-globalization demonstrations. Hackers placed the slogan "Hi-Tech Hate" on Web sites, police said. However, the attacks did not cause much monetary damage and so the hackers are not expected to be severely punished.

In the U.S. hacked sites included those of the Pentagon, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, courts and numerous universities including Harvard University, Columbia University and Cornell University, police said.

The group also attacked government Web sites in Britain, China, Sweden, Portugal, Australia, Bolivia, the Philippines, Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela, Pakistan and Bahrain, the finance police said in a statement. The Anti-Technological Crime Unit (GAT) of the finance police handled the investigation.

In Italy the group hacked sites of the health and defense ministries, the Senate, media organizations, the Internet provider Italia On Line SpA, the Left Democrats Party and pop singer Claudio Baglioni.

The investigation began Aug. 12, 2001, when the crime unit became aware of an attempt to penetrate the Web site of MB Service Srl, a software company in the northeastern town of Ravenna, police said. Investigators followed the trail to a Hi-Tech Hate hacker and subsequently tracked down the other five. The students lived in different parts of Italy and kept in contact via the Internet, investigators said.

"This was one of the most prolific hacker groups ever seen in terms of the number of its attacks. They were very expert," Giancarlo Samele, a member of the Anti-Technological Crime Unit, said in an interview. "We don't have an estimate of the financial damage caused, but it should not be very high. These were not really malicious attacks."

The hackers are likely to escape with suspended prison sentences because they have no previous convictions and their attacks did not cause serious damage, Gianluigi Chiapponi, the Ravenna prosecutor coordinating the case, said at a press conference.

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