|Defaced website of Mexican politician Gustavo Rosario|
@YourAnonNews: Starting today #OpCartel begins. Heads up #Zetas!In order to gauge the potential impact of Anonymous' threat against Los Zetas (or any target), you need to assess the size of the attack surface. The larger the online footprint of the target, the greater the potential impact of the attack. Stratfor's Oct 28 analysis underestimates the Cartel's digital footprint and ignores Mexicos' indigenous hacker population: "The online media frequently used to organize Anonymous-labeled activities are far removed from the violent world of Mexican criminal cartels. This distance — along with the likely physical distance of many Anonymous members from Mexico — could limit the activists’ understanding of cartel activities."
For my analysis, I've examined two data sets: the size of the South American hacker population and the use of online tools by the Zetas and other Mexican crime syndicates and cartels. The asymmetrical nature of cyber conflict doesn't require large numbers of Anonymous members to be involved to be effective but there are certain parameters that will impact the measure of success of their op; one - the number of Anonymous members who speak the language and know the terrain and two - whether the Zetas or their associates use social networks enough for them to be vulnerable.
Assuming that some of Anonymous members are hackers rather than script kiddies, Diosdelared.com might be a good starting point. Diosdelared.com is a large, popular South American hacker forum that has doubled in size since Taia Global analysts first reviewed it in April 2010. It now has 4524 members of which 1351 are from Mexico, 1201 from Argentina, 461 from Peru, 443 from Spain, 227 from Columbia, and 219 from Venezuela. There hasn't been any mention yet of OpCartel in their public postings but with over 1300 members who self-identify as Mexican, even a ten percent participation rate could have a significant impact on the Zetas' organization.
Mexican Drug Gangs
The use of online tools by drug gangs has been escalating. YouTube has been a popular medium to generate fear and recruit new members for several years. Facebook and Twitter were added to their toolkit in April, 2010, when a drug gang shuttered the Mexican town of Cuernavaca by spreading threats of violence via social networks to anyone who broke their curfew. The streets of Cuernavaca stayed empty for the designated period. In August, 2011 Mexican drug gangs learned how useful social networks can be for targeting victims. Also last summer, the head of the Beltran Leyva gang hired a computer technician to assist him in becoming "virtual". The specific degree of the Zetas online presence isn't known but they're clearly building a digital fingerprint if the history of their peers is any indication; a fingerprint that could be uncovered and exploited by a group like Anonymous.
If Anonymous makes good on their threat to release information on the Zetas' businesses and associates on November 5, their rivals and hopefully law enforcement would almost certainly exploit that information to hurt the Zetas. More importantly, if the OpCartel movement attracts broad Mexican and South American support, it could be the beginning of a movement that would lead to the overthrow the drug cartel's power and influence in Mexico. The fact that Mexico is about to begin one of its most important holidays - Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) - is highly significant. The combination of religion and patriotism is a potent mix, and the Anonymous movement is riding on a wave of successes that connect social media to revolutionary change in the Middle East, North Africa, and the global Occupy movement. Why not Mexico as well?
UPDATE: As of late Sunday night (Oct 30th), Anonymous cancelled #OpCartel after weighing the risks that leaking information about the Zetas posed to its members. The following is a machine translation of the announcement:
In an interview with MILLENNIUM, two members of Anonymous, and Skill3r GlynissParoubek be contacted to explain the circumstances:The Milenio article goes on to state that other Anonymous members like AnonymousSabu, the former head of LulzSec, who aren't part of Anonymous Mexico, will continue #OpCartel anyway.
Why was decided to cancel the operation?
We can not be a reckless administrators to condemn to death those who participate, we have talked and discussed extensively by all and it was decided to remove it.
So why issue threats?
"It's very easy to make a video on behalf of Anonymous and launch air threats, but to think, plan and evaluate the pros and cons is another story," they said.
"They continue other operations, but for now we hope to make clear that the cartel operation is false."
UPDATE 2 (01 NOV 2011): The Global Voices blog features an excellent review of OpCartel including whether the alleged kidnapping of an Anonymous member was faked or not.