How hackers wreaked havoc in St. Louis

Anonymous operatives have been terrorizing police officers, officials and residents over the past three months.

The first call came on a Thursday, 12 days after Michael Brown was shot. The caller warned Patti Knowles that the collective of computer hackers and activists known as Anonymous had posted data online: her address and phone number and her husband James’ date of birth and Social Security number.

Anonymous had been targeting Ferguson and police officials for days. But this seemed to be an error. Patti and James weren’t city leaders, they were the parents of one – Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III.

Within hours, identity thieves had opened a credit application – the first of many – using the leaked data.

The second call came on a Friday, nearly two months later. This time, it was their bank. Someone, posing as James, the mayor’s father, had called in and changed passwords, addresses and emails. Then the individual sent $16,000 in bank checks to an address in Chicago. The name on the address? Jon Belmar. Same as the chief of the St. Louis County police.

Anonymous denied responsibility for sending the checks.

But Anonymous openly claims credit for the first set of actions: Scouring the Internet for personal and private financial information on hundreds if not thousands of police officers, mayors, judges and officials, in governments big and small, worldwide.

“I think we’re just seeing the tremors of what can happen,” Peter Ambs, Albuquerque’s CIO, told govetech. “Nobody is immune. It’s not a matter of if, but when. … How much money are we going to have to spend on hardening our systems, monitoring them to the point of locking them down so they have no value to anybody?”

Just after 5 p.m. on Aug. 9, rapper and local activist Kareem Jackson, known as Tef Poe, sent out a call for help: “Basically martial law is taking place in Ferguson all perimeters blocked coming and going,” he wrote on Twitter. “National and international friends Help!!!”

Jackson didn’t return a call seeking comment. Jackson’s attorney, James Wyrsch, denied that the intent of the tweet was to request the involvement of Anonymous.

Still, Anonymous responded to Jackson within hours, and, by the next day, had created the Twitter account OpFerguson, plus a warning on YouTube:

“We are watching you very closely. If you abuse, harass or harm in any way the protesters in Ferguson we will take every Web-based asset of your departments and governments offline,” Anonymous’ idiosyncratic electronic voice hummed. “That is not a threat. It is a promise.”

Anonymous said it would begin publicly releasing personal information “on every single member of the Ferguson Police Department,” among others. Then it did.

Early on the morning of Aug. 12, hackers posted county police chief Belmar’s home address and phone number online. They tweeted pictures of him, his house, his wife, his children. “You said our threats were just hollow,” wrote TheAnonMessage. “See, that makes us mad. You shouldn’t challenge us.”

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