Hackers Hit Justice Dept. After Closure of Piracy Site

US officials on Thursday shut down Megaupload.com, a popular hosting site for illegal media downloads. The move is part of possibly the biggest crackdown on Internet piracy ever, as officials not only took the site down, but also arrested the company’s leaders. Several hours later, the loose collection of hackers known as Anonymous announced its was retaliating, setting its sights on the US Department of Justice. Just minutes following the threat, DOJ’s website was reportedly knocked down.

Justice officials acknowledged that the website was down, but did not credit Anonymous, even though the issues developed shortly after numerous Twitter accounts associated with Anonymous began posting threatening messages. Anonymous often uses a technique called a “distributed denial of service” attack to shut down a website, which directs a massive flood of traffic toward the target to overwhelm the server and crash it. Though common;y used by hackers, the technique isn’t technically hacking and no security breach is involved.

According to one tech writer familiar with Anonymous practices, the attack was the group’s largest ever, as more than 5,600 hackers worked together using a tool called a “low orbit cannon,” a software-based tool that drives traffic to a specific website. A website belonging to Universal Music also reportedly went down Thursday, after several Anonymous Twitter accounts mentioned it as a target. The attack also targeted the websites of the Recording Industry Association of America and Motion Picture Association.