Hacker collective swears revenge on drugs gang

Notorious 'hacktivists' Anonymous have declared war on Los Zetas, Mexico's most murderous drugs cartel. Some experts say the heavily armed gangsters have reason to be afraid.

An unusual briefing from private intelligence agency Stratfor has internet watchers and security experts buzzing with speculation. Why? Because it seems to indicate that two powerful and shadowy organisations may be about to clash: on the one hand, the leaderless, chaotic, sometimes idealistic hacker network known as Anonymous. On the other, a ruthless, disciplined, military-style drugs gang called Los Zetas.

In a video posted to the internet this month, and recently discovered by Stratfor analysts, a man wearing the suit and the now famous Guy Fawkes mask of Anonymous promises vengeance on the Zeta Cartel for the alleged kidnapping of a fellow hacker. ‘You made a huge mistake by taking one of us,’ he says. ‘Release him. And if anything happens to him, you will always remember this upcoming November 5th.’

That deadline is now approaching. If Anonymous really does intend to challenge Los Zetas, this Saturday could see the start of an extraordinary conflict between two very different kinds of underground organisation. ‘This is like one of those 1950s horror movies,’ said one expert: ‘the Werewolf versus Frankenstein. They’re incompatible creatures that do warfare in different ways.’

Los Zetas are one of the most feared drug cartels in Mexico. Founded by ex-soldiers, the Zetas are regarded as the most violent paramilitary organisation in the country, known for their thousands of murders and for the extreme and disgusting brutality with which they treat their victims. Heavily armed, and well organised, they are more like an army than a criminal gang.

Anonymous, on the other hand, is little more than a loose knit group (or really a series of groups) of hackers who gather online. There are no names, and no official membership – only a web of personal connections based on loosely held ideology and shared jokes. Like the internet itself, Anonymous is headless, chaotic, anarchic, undisciplined and often juvenile.

Byte the bullet

To many observers, Anonymous versus Los Zetas seems like a dangerously uneven contest, especially since it is unclear how much of the hacker community really supports the attack on the cartel. And anyway, what can a bunch of web geeks behind computer screens do against armed criminals? As one Twitter user put it: ‘bits and bytes won’t work against bullets.’

But some analysts say the hacking threats shouldn’t be taken lightly. After all, if hackers can discover and reveal the identities of Zeta members, those Zetas will face possible arrest, and – worse – a serious risk of violence from other cartels. The Zetas’ knives and guns are crude weapons. Anonymous uses a much more subtle, and perhaps powerful, tool: information.

You Decide

  1. Is the keyboard mightier than the gun?
  2. If hackers did successfully attack Los Zetas, they might indirectly cause death or serious injury to Zeta members. Is this sort of vigilante justice ever acceptable? Why / why not?

Activities

  1. What is the best way to combat organised crime? As a class, come up with five proposals.
  2. Do some research to find out about different kinds of hacking attack. Create a graphic showing what they are and how they work.

Some People Say...

“To combat drug cartels, anything goes.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Will Anonymous really dare to take on the Zetas?
No one knows for sure. No one even knows who produced the original video, and various Anonymous groups have issued contradictory statements. It all really depends on whether individual hackers decide to get involved.
Will they?
Hard to say. The attack on the Zetas seems to have limited support online, but Anonymous has taken down big targets before, and has been known to get involved with idealistic causes like the Arab Spring.
It sounds dangerous.
It is – extremely. People have already been murdered in Mexico for criticising Los Zetas online. Many Anonymous members are warning that even the threat of an attack on the Zetas could cause a deadly backlash.

Word Watch

Private intelligence agency
Stratfor is one of many companies that offer high-level analysis of world events to corporate clients. Their employees often have a background, and contacts, in government intelligence services.
Drugs gang
For four years now, Mexico has been suffering from a major surge in violence related to the international drugs trade. Profitable routes for smuggling cocaine from South America to the US and the EU are controlled by hugely powerful 'cartels', which employ thousands of armed 'footsoldiers' and which are known to have bought the loyalty of high ranking politicians and police officers.
Guy Fawkes
Guy Fawkes was an English Catholic revolutionary who plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605, but was caught and executed. A mask based on his face, and used in the film V for Vendetta has become a symbol of the Anonymous movement.

Subjects

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