The group known as Anonymous said Saturday it has hacked into some 70 law enforcement websites across the southern and central United States in retaliation for arrests of its sympathizers in the U.S. and Britain.
The hacking group also claimed to have stolen 10 gigabytes of data, including emails, credit card details, and other information from local law enforcement bodies.
"We are releasing a massive amount of confidential information that is sure to (embarrass), discredit and incriminate police officers across the US," the group said in a statement, adding that it hoped the leak would "demonstrate the inherently corrupt nature of law enforcement using their own words" and "disrupt and sabotage their ability to communicate and terrorize communities."
Anonymous' claims couldn't all be immediately verified, but a review of the sites it claims to have targeted — mainly sheriffs' offices in places such as Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Mississippi — showed that most were unavailable or had been wiped clean of content.
Many calls to various sheriffs' offices across the country went unanswered or weren't returned Saturday, but at least two confirmed the cyber attack.
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 told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. He said the FBI was investigating the attacks.
In Louisiana, Cameron Parish Sheriff's Deputy James Cox said he didn't think his force's website had any sensitive information on it.
"That's just a local-information type website," he said. "Just a little bit about our sheriff's office, number of deputies. ... Just general information."
Arrests have been made around the world
Anonymous has increasingly been targeted by law enforcement in the United States and elsewhere following a string of high-profile data thefts and denial of service attacks — operations which block websites by flooding them with traffic.
Last month the FBI and British and Dutch officials carried out 21 arrests, many of them related to the group's attacks on Internet payment provider PayPal Inc., which has been targeted over its refusal to process donations to WikiLeaks.
Earlier 19-year-old Ryan Cleary was charged with attacks on the Britain's Serious Organized Crime Agency and various U.K. music sites. More recently, Jake Davis, alleged to be a spokesman for Anonymous known as "Topiary," was arrested on Britain's remote Shetland Islands by Scotland Yard's specialist e-crime unit.
Many of the websites affected Saturday were registered to Brooks-Jeffrey Marketing Inc., a Mountain Home, Arkansas-based media services firm which provides support to law enforcement websites across the country.
A man who picked up the phone at the company's on-call web support service hung up when a reporter identified himself as a member of the media. The number then became unreachable.