‘Anonymous’ Targets Michigan, Activates #OpFlint

#OpFlint promises online attacks against Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration in response to the water emergency in the city of Flint.

by / January 21, 2016

The hacktivist group known as ‘Anonymous’ has launched a campaign called ‘OpFlint,’ which promises online attacks directed toward Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration in response to the Flint water emergency.

The situation in Flint, Mich., has dominated national headlines recently. In addition to CNN's coverageThe New York Times, USA Today and Bloomberg.com are posting stories on daily developments, and ABC News offers this timeline of water crisis events.

Anonymous Takes to YouTube

On the morning of Jan. 20, Anonymous posted this YouTube video:

Website Vocativ.com broke the story that evening, noting that Anonymous Intelligence Group, an account associated with Anonymous, "released a statement on Wednesday morning entitled, "'Anonymous Activates #OpFlint … And Yes It’s About Time!'"

Though Vocativ.com says the video doesn’t explain any specifics of Anonymous’ attack plan, it does assure to those affected by the water crisis that, "We will amplify your voice where the mainstream media will surely fail you, as it has in the past. We will also join you in calling bullshit on any spin that the corporate media is prepared to put on this."

Michigan State Government Experiences DDOS Attacks

To determine if Michigan was experiencing any attacks following these threats, Government Technology Web Editor Jessica Mulholland reached out to the Michigan Department of Technology Management & Budget (DTMB).

“We are constantly monitoring online conversations with our partners at the Michigan State Police and the FBI that involve threats against State of Michigan networks to stay prepared for any possible coordinated attempts to disrupt our services," said DTMB Public Information Office Caleb Buhs. "This past weekend, on Saturday, Jan. 16, we experienced a DDOS attack on our website, Michigan.gov. The attempt caused slower performance and a brief time where the site was offline. Working with our private partners we were able to mitigate the problem in a short amount of time and have not incurred any further attacks since this past weekend’s events.”

Though it's not clear at this time whether this attack came from Anonymous, the timing is certainly suspicious at minimum.

Governor’s Emails Related to Water Situation Released

Many leaders nationwide have called for the release of more details regarding the decisions made and internal communications over the past several years regarding the Flint water situation. In that vein, Snyder’s office released emails related to missteps during the water emergency, a summary of which is available at the Detroit News. The Detroit Free Press noted that these emails show that the state tried to defer blame for the situation, while CNN calls out that the release of these emails does little to ease pressure on the governor. This situation, however, is evolving rapidly.

Final Thoughts

It is not clear what the hacktivist group intends to prove (or gain) by attacking state government networks at this point – beyond the publicity. The types of cyberattacks and overall approach that will be (or already has been) used by Anonymous is not certain.

What is clear, however, is that some group conducted a coordinate DDOS last weekend against Michigan state government networks that brought down the Michigan.gov website. 

The importance of this hacktivist threat goes beyond this specific situation in Michigan related to water crisis in Flint. Governments need to be prepared to face more than just criticism in the form of public speeches, online criticisms or group protests.

Online cyberattacks, in the form of DDOS attacks, appear to part of 21st century new paradigm moving forward.

So far, Michigan’s government technology team and their private-sector partners have done a good job of being ready for online attacks. As for what comes next, only time will tell.