The British spy agency GCHQ has been embroiled in a war against the hacktivists of Anonymous and LulzSec, according to the latest documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and revealed by NBC.
The distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks were used against Anonymous, which at the time was seen as a threat to government agencies. LulzSec had used DDoS attacks to take down government, political and industry websites including the CIA, the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), Sony, News International and Westboro Baptist Church.
The government DDoS attacks stemmed from a unit within GCHQ dubbed the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG), which has said it used the attacks – as well as instant messaging services from the likes of Facebook and Skype – to scare away 80 per cent of the users of Anonymous internet chat rooms.
The documents show that JTRIG helped send a hacktivist to prison for stealing data from PayPal, while also helping to unmask hacktivists who attacked government websites.
This is the first time that a Western government has been found to have carried out a DDoS attack.
And the JTRIG's activities possibly break the same law that it used to jail several people.
"One group of DDoS attackers get caught and sent to jail. The other group seemingly gets away with it, because they have the approval of the British government," security expert Graham Cluley said.
In a statement to NBC news, a GCHQ spokesperson said that its work was carried out "in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework" and that its activities were "authorised, necessary and proportionate".