The Spanish police apprehended three men on Friday suspected of computer hacking in connection with recent cyber attacks on Sony’s PlayStation Network as well as corporate and government Web sites around the world.
The National Police identified the three as the local leadership of the shadowy international network of computer hackers known as Anonymous, which has claimed responsibility for a wide variety of attacks.
Anonymous is made up of people from various countries organized into cells that share common goals, the police said, with activists operating anonymously, but in a coordinated fashion.
One of the “hacktivist” detainees, a 31-year-old Spaniard, was detained in the southern city of Almería sometime after May 18, the police said. He had a computer server in his apartment in the northern port city of Gijón, from which the group attacked the websites of the Sony PlayStation online gaming store.
The same computer was also employed in coordinated cyber attacks against two Spanish banks, BBVA and Bankia, the Italian energy company Enel, as well as government sites in Spain, Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Iran, Chile, Colombia and New Zealand, the police said.
The two other men, both also Spanish and in their early 30s, were picked up in Barcelona and Valencia. The statement did not make clear the timing of those arrests, but a spokeswoman for the police said all the detentions had occurred “recently.”
The spokeswoman, who did not want to be identified per department policy, said all three were subsequently released, without bail, pending formal charges.
They were expected to be charged with forming an illegal association to attack public and corporate Web sites, a charge that faces a potential sentence of up to three years in prison.
The police opened their investigation last October, after hackers overwhelmed the Spanish Ministry of Culture’s Web site to protest Spanish legislation increasing punishments for illegal downloads.
It was not immediately clear how much of a role they allegedly played in the recent attacks on Sony. About a dozen Sony Web sites and services around the world have been hacked; the biggest breaches forced the company, which is based in Tokyo, to shut down its popular PlayStation Network for a month beginning in April.
The Japanese company has acknowledged that hackers compromised the personal data of tens of millions of user accounts. Earlier this month, a separate hacker collective called Lulz Security said it had breached a Sony Pictures site and released vital source codes.
Sony has estimated that the hacker attacks will cost it at least ¥14 billion, or $173 million, in damages, including information technology spending, legal costs, lower sales and free offers to lure back customers.
Mami Imada, a Sony spokeswoman in Tokyo, said she had no information on the arrests and declined to comment.
The police said that they had analyzed more than two million lines of chat logs since October, as well as Web pages used by the group to identify the leadership in Spain “with the capacity to make decisions and direct attacks.”
Anonymous members made use of a computer program called LOIC to crash Web sites by flooding them with denial-of-service attacks, the police said.
Among recent attacks, the hackers also brought down the site of the Spanish National Electoral Commission last month before regional and municipal elections. It was that attack, on May 18, that led to the arrest in Almería.
The movement against the anti-piracy law has been closely linked to the broader youth-led political movement that have occupied Puerta del Sol in Madrid and other city squares since May 15.
These protests have called for a complete overhaul of Spain’s political system — and the laws targeting illegal downloading.