Privacy and data law firm practitioners told the National Law Journal last weekend’s attack on the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s website fit with a pattern of assaults intended on shaming the government by conveying political messages in part through exposing embarrassing weaknesses in federal cyber defenses. The “hacktivist” group Anonymous claimed responsibility for hacking and defacing the commission’s website, and threatening to release sensitive information unless federal sentencing guidelines were reformed.
Anonymous posted nine encrypted files, named after each of the Supreme Court justices, which allegedly contain sensitive information from numerous websites. “It’s a psychological ploy,” said Mary Ellen Callahan, chair of Jenner & Block’s privacy and information governance practice and former chief privacy officer at the Department of Homeland Security. “Anonymous uses embarrassment to convey their political message, and they do so quite effectively.” Callahan said the Sentencing Commission’s site might have been an easier target than other agency sites like the Department of Justice because it serves as a billboard site that provides public information. “Regardless of the vehicle Anonymous uses, it’s about publicity and topics important to them, like sentencing guidelines,” she said.