BART website breach exposes divisions within hacktivist group

San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit system has come under online attack for the second time this week with the BART police department’s website being taken off-line due to a breach that might — or might not — be the work of the Anonymous hacktivist organization.

Personal information on about 100 officers was apparently taken from the BART Police Officers Association site at BARTPOA.com and posted July 17 at Pastebin.com, which Anonymous has used in the past for publishing data taken from compromised IT systems.

Anonymous has an ongoing operation against BART as a result of the system’s decision Aug. 11 to disable cell phone service at some stations in an effort to disrupt planned protests. But whether the latest hack and information release are the work of the group remains an open question.


Related coverage:

Anonymous strikes San Francisco's BART after cell shutdown fiasco


“FYI: No one claimed responsibility for the hack. Some random Joe joined a channel and released the data to the press,” AnonyOps wrote on Twitter shortly after the data release. “The leak today of BART officer data could be the work sanctioned by those who truly support Anonymous, or agent provocateurs. Stay skeptical.”

In an apparent official statement, AnonyOps declared in a separate posting on Pastebin.com that “Anonymous is not unanimous,” and that it is impossible to confirm or deny actions taken under its name.

Anonymous is a libertarian hacking group (or groups) that opposes government secrecy and corruption, primarily through online activism that takes the form of breaching websites and IT systems and exposing information. Its beef with BART stems from a fatal police shooting at a station in July, which generated protests at BART stations. When the transit system sought to deprive protesters of communications to organize by shutting off power to station cell sites on Aug. 11, Anonymous called the action censorship and responded with a hack against BART websites. As of this writing, myBART.org is online but “under construction.”

The group’s Operation BART is listed as an ongoing operation on the group’s website, and the breach of BARTPOA.com appears to be part of it. But identifying an official Anonymous activity, or even defining the group, is difficult.

“Most people think we're a group of shadowy hackers,” the AnonyOps post says. “This is a fundamental flaw. Anonymous is groups of shadowy hackers. The mainstream media needs to understand that Anonymous isn't unanimous.”

The post complains that much of the good activist work done by Anonymous is ignored while “a destructive minority is getting a majority of the press.”

According to the post, “Hacking isn't just about breaking into Web servers and leaking data to the public. It is about learning more about the technologies we use and social norms we are subject to. Don't let the actions of a few skew your perception of hackers as a whole.”

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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Reader Comments

Fri, Aug 19, 2011 Amused

Anonymous has hired a spin doctor!!! Where were all of these claims of "The mainstream media needs to understand that Anonymous isn't unanimous" that have cropped up or the Be Skeptical announcements. I believe the negative public opinion of their activities and methods as well as potential legal complications should they be caught has brought about the ambiguities.

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