An 18-year-old New Jersey man agreed to plead guilty to federal computer hacking charges Friday for participating in a denial-of-service attack against Church of Scientology websites, as part of collective of online troublemakers known as "Anonymous."
Dmitriy Guzner is charged with a single felony count of unauthorized impairment of a protected computer for the January distributed denial-of-service attack. He faces a likely sentence of 12 to 18 months in prison based on stipulations in his plea agreement, which also obliges him to pay $37,500 in restitution.
Anonymous is best described as a collection of griefers who hang out in the net's most juvenile corners looking for some outlet for their boredom. Past targets include uncool virtual worlds, an epilepsy message board and a Neo-Nazi webcaster.
Most recently, the FBI charged a 20-year-old Tennessee student named David Kernell with breaking into Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's e-mail account, and sharing the password, and partial contents, on an Anonymous message board.
Friday's case, in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, marks the first prosecution of an Anonymous member for a series of attacks against the Church of Scientology that began in mid-January. The secretive religious group strayed into Anonymous' sights after trying to suppress the publication of a creepy Tom Cruise video produced for Scientology members.
The group's efforts against the church included extended denial-of-service attacks, in which more skilled members of anonymous authored attack scripts that less-skilled members executed. The scripts sent waves of fake traffic at various Scientology websites in an effort to overwhelm their servers.
Other tactics included swamping phone lines with crank calls and sending black fax pages to Scientology offices. A core group graduated to real-world demonstrations outside of Scientology centers, where they were joined by mainstream critics of the church, who largely mistook Anonymous as an anti-Scientology group, rather than anti-everything.
According to court papers, Guzner "knowingly caused the transmission of information, codes and commands and as a result of such conduct, intentionally and without authorization caused damage by impairing the integrity and availability of data, a program, a system and information on a computer system that was used in interstate and foreign commerce and communications, specifically websites belonging to the Church of Scientology, thereby causing loss to one or more persons aggregating at least $5,000 in value[...]"
His plea agreement estimates that the attacks cost Scientology between $30,000 and $70,000 in damage.
Guzner was investigated by the U.S. Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force in Los Angeles, which says it worked with the FBI and Los Angeles law enforcement groups.
It's not clear whether others remain under investigation.