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Italian police arrest 14 in hacker probe

The suspects are accused of thousands of computer intrusions, including attacks on the U.S. Army and Navy and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Italian police have arrested 14 suspected hackers who are accused of thousands of computer intrusions, including attacks on the U.S. Army and Navy and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Italy's financial police, the Guardia di Finanza, said Thursday that those arrested included four minors, the security manager of a large Italian Internet service provider, a network security manager for a computer consulting company, and several information technology consultants. Some had close ties to protest groups, police said.

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 investigation, which began last October and was initiated by the U.S. Secret Service following the theft of sensitive files from U.S. government and military sites. The U.S. Army CID (Criminal Investigation Command), U.S. Navy and the U.S. Secret Service assisted in the investigation.

Besides the theft of government documents, the suspects are accused of running up large bills on credit card numbers stolen from servers and of using information gained from their attacks to crack an encryption system called SECA2, used by Italy's 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 suspects. The individuals kept the illegally copied DVD content on university servers that they had cracked, alleges the Guardia di Finanza.

Some of those arrested had used their position as security consultants to gain illegal access to their clients' servers, the police said.

"In certain circumstances, the security systems installed in the private companies network were actually hiding a back door, which allowed the hackers to conduct their attacks," said Dario Forte, a technical expert who runs the Guardia di Finanza's forensics unit. The unit located the hacking groups.

The Reservoir Dogs group has surfaced before. An Estonian security group called "Domina" recently carried out an interview with a person claiming to be part of the group. In the interview, 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 individual said.

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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 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.

ZD U.K.'s Matthew Broersma reported from London.