Italian police nab NASA hackers

Fourteen hackers from Italy are accused of hacking government computers, abusing stolen credit cards and distributing pirate DVDs

Italian police have arrested fourteen hackers, who are accused of thousands of computer intrusions, including attacks on the US Army and Navy and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The country's financial police, the Guardia di Finanza, said on Thursday that those arrested included four minors, the security manager of a large Italian ISP, a network security manager for a computer consulting company, and several IT consultants. Some had close ties to protest groups, according to the police.

They were all members of two hacking groups, called Mentor and Reservoir Dogs, the police said. The individuals were based in cities throughout Italy, they said.

The arrests are the culmination of several months of investigations, which began in October of last year and were initiated by the US Secret Service following the theft of sensitive files from US government and military sites. The US Army CID, US Navy and the US Secret Service assisted in the investigations.

Besides the theft of government documents, the hackers are accused of running up large bills on credit card numbers stolen from servers, and using information gained from their attacks to crack an encryption system called SECA2 used by the Tele+ and Stream satellite broadcasters.

Upon carrying out search warrants, police also said they discovered several hundred pirated DVDs, which were allegedly being distributed by the hackers. The individuals kept pirate DVD content on university servers that they had cracked, according to Guarda di Finanza.

Some of those arrested had used their position as security consultants to gain illegal access to their clients' servers, the police alleged. "In certain circumstances, the security systems installed in the private companies network were actually hiding a 'back door' which allowed the hacker to conduct their attacks," stated Dario Forte, a technical expert who runs the Guaria di Finanza's forensics unit, which located the hacking groups.

The "Reservoir Dogs" group of hackers has surfaced before. An Estonian security group called Domina recently carried out an interview with a hacker claiming to be part of the group, in which Reservoir Dogs was described as consisting of 10 members, all Italian, between the ages of 16 and 26. The group focused on hacking Unix and Unix-like operating systems such as Linux, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, Solaris and Irix.

The unnamed member said that Reservoir Dogs was not interested in politics; they hacked systems more to demonstrate skill than to prove a point. He or she said the group hacked at least 100 sites per month, sometimes including one "serious" system, such as a bank or government server, per day.

The member, ironically, was unworried by the attentions of law-enforcement: "We have not had any confrontations with law enforcement, luckily. We think that there are a few rules to be followed (if you do not want to be) caught. We try to respect them."

The accused hackers could be imprisoned for up to eight years.

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