The international hacking group known as Anonymous said Saturday it hacked into 70 mostly rural law enforcement websites in the United States, a data breach that at least one local police chief said leaked sensitive information about an ongoing investigation.
The loose-knit hacking collective posted a cache of data to the Internet early Saturday, including emails stolen from officers, tips that appeared to come from members of the public, credit card numbers and other information.
Anonymous said it had stolen 10 gigabytes worth of data in retaliation for arrests of its sympathizers in the U.S. and Britain.
Tim Mayfield, a police chief in Gassville, Ark., told the Associated Press that some of the material posted online -- including pictures of teenage girls in their swimsuits -- was sent to him as part of an ongoing investigation. He declined to provide details.
Though many of the leaked emails appeared benign, some of the stolen material seen by the AP carried sensitive information, including tips about suspected crimes, profiles of gang members and security training.
The emails were mainly from sheriffs' offices in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Mississippi. Many of the websites were operated by a Mountain Home, Ark., media services hosting company, and most, if not all, were either unavailable Saturday or had been wiped clean of content. The company, Brooks-Jeffrey Marketing, declined to comment.
In a statement, Anonymous said it had leaked "a massive amount of confidential information that is sure to (embarrass,) discredit and incriminate police officers across the US." The group said it hoped the disclosures would "demonstrate the inherently corrupt nature of law enforcement using their own words" and "disrupt and sabotage their ability to communicate and terrorize communities."
The group did not say specifically why these sheriffs' departments were targeted, but Anonymous members have increasingly been pursued by law enforcement in the United States and elsewhere following a string of high-profile data thefts and denial-of-service attacks -- operations that block websites by flooding them with traffic.
Last month, the FBI and British and Dutch officials made 21 arrests, many of them related to the group's attacks on Internet payment provider PayPal Inc., which has been targeted for its refusal to process donations to WikiLeaks.
Anonymous also claimed credit for disrupting the websites of Visa and MasterCard in December when the credit card companies stopped processing donations to WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.
As part of the information posted from U.S. sheriffs' offices, the group leaked five credit card numbers it said it used to make "involuntary donations."
Anonymous also posted several emails from police tipsters, many of whom had asked law enforcement not to use their names because they were afraid of retaliation.
The AP called more than two dozen sheriffs' offices across the country that had information posted by Anonymous.
In Arkansas, St. Francis County Sheriff Bobby May said his department and several others were targeted in retaliation for the arrest of hackers who had targeted Apple Computer Inc., among other companies.
"It's an international group who are hacking into law enforcement websites across the nation is my understanding," May said, adding that the FBI was investigating the attacks.