Tampa police taking cyber threat seriously

In a YouTube video, a masked man warns that police brutality will be the department's downfall

By Jessica Vander Velde
St. Petersburg Times

TAMPA, Fla. — The Occupy Wall Street protest is coming to Tampa, and it appears a notorious hacker group has a message for Tampa police:

Get in our way, and we will wipe you off the Internet.

In a YouTube video, a masked man warns that police brutality will be the department's downfall.

"If you wish to have the Tampa Police Department alive as a whole — and this is metaphorically speaking — then stay away from the protesters," he says.

The video is attributed to "hacktivist" group Anonymous, best known for its cyber attacks on Sony, Bank of America and the Iranian government.

It's unclear if Anonymous is truly behind the video, or if the masked man is acting alone.

"That's the thing about being anonymous," said James Buckner, the city of Tampa's chief information officer. "You don't know."

Nonetheless, the city is preparing. It has to, Buckner said, given Anonymous' previous cyber hacking successes.

The city already has intrusion detectors and firewalls in its systems that officials constantly update. They don't plan to buy new products, he said. Instead, employees will monitor the systems more closely.

If police lose Internet connection, their work could be hampered. The worst scenario would be if confidential case files are hacked.

"That's always a threat we're concerned about," Buckner said.

Police don't believe it will come to that. Occupy Tampa held a protest Saturday that drew about 400. The group was peaceful, and there were no arrests.

Police hope the same happens at Thursday's protest, and so do Occupy Tampa organizers.

The group never endorsed the video and doesn't know who posted it, said member Chris Dorsey, 24, a University of South Florida student.

He was upset the anonymous speaker told people to bring gas masks in case police start using pepper spray.

"We're like, 'What? That's not going to happen,'?" Dorsey said.

He said organizers believe the masked man is young and mistaken, incorrectly believing police are out to get people.

"We know that's not the case," he said.

Occupy Tampa is one of many satellite protests being held across the country. In New York, the Occupy Wall Street movement started with fewer than a dozen college students three weeks ago .

The arrests of 700 people on the Brooklyn Bridge over the weekend fueled the anger of protesters camping in a Manhattan park and sparked nationwide support.

Some have cited instances of police brutality in New York, and New York Police Department authorities say they're investigative a complaint of an officer wrongly using pepper spray at a recent demonstration.

Times researcher John Martin and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 Times Publishing Company

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