A group of internet hackers affiliated with the organization Anonymous attacked the Philadelphia Police Department’s website, stopping access for some visitors, over the arrest of activists protesting the ban on marijuana.
The denial of service (DoS) attack hit PhillyPolice.com last Tuesday, May 23, the department confirmed to NBC10.com.
“Our site experienced momentary disruption while the IT company took measures to counteract their activity,” Philadelphia Police Social and Digital Media Manager Sgt. Eric Gripp said. “However, due to the site experiencing heavy traffic, it slowed down for some users.”
With a DoS attack, internet servers hosting the website are overloaded by hundreds or thousands of requests to access the site, at the same time. The requests clog the pipeline, preventing the server from delivering the website to users.
Sgt. Gripp said the traffic was coming from “all over the world at the same time.”
Anonymous Team Vendetta, a hacktivist group supporting the legalization of cannabis or marijuana, posted a video to YouTube the same day claiming responsibility for the attack. In the video, an unknown user can be seen typing computer code into a dialog box and then showing a web page stating the site was down.
The video also shows a similar attack on the website for the United States Park Ranger Lodge, the fraternal order for park rangers. Requests for comment from the organization were not returned.
Law enforcement sources who did not want to be named because they're not authorized to speak publicly about the incident, said that officials came across online intel suggesting such an attack could be carried out. Those officials were able to notify the site owners ahead of time of the impending onslaught.
The group says they attacked the two sites because of the arrest of activists at a May 18 protest on Independence Mall at 5th and Market Streets, according to the video. The video shows protesters being taken into custody by National Park Service Rangers.
“All of this absurdity over the oppression of such a beneficial ‘plant,’ so as a collective we must protest,” text in the video reads.
One of the protesters, activist and libertarian Adam Kokesh, was arrested after allegedly assaulting a ranger. In a complaint filed in United States District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Kokesh was speaking to the crowd, when another demonstrator told the protesters to light marijuana cigarettes.
The group linked arms and formed a circle to prevent rangers from getting to the alleged illegal drug use. When a ranger tried to push his way through, Kokesh allegedly grabbed the ranger’s arm and held him back, according to the complaint. Kokesh was then taken into custody.
Philadelphia Police were not involved in the demonstrator arrests, according to Sgt. Gripp.
Kokesh posted a photo to his Facebook page showing him smiling next to a sign stating that possession of illegal drugs is prohibited. He was held for six days, eventually being released last Friday. His charges were reduced to a citation.
Kokesh has not responded to requests regarding the arrest and whether he was aware of the website attacks.
Philadelphia Police say the department works with federal authorities when cyber attacks are carried out.
“In events such as this, we do in fact confer with federal authorities in order to investigate the perpetrators,” Sgt. Gripp said.
Federal Bureau of Investigation Public Affairs Specialist Carrie Adamowski says as a matter of policy the bureau neither confirms or denies the existence of investigations.
NBC10.com reached out to Anonymous Team Vendetta about the attacks, but they did not comment on the event.