The Spanish police said on Friday that they had apprehended three men suspected of computer hacking in connection with recent attacks on Sony’s PlayStation Network as well as corporate and government Web sites around the world.
The National Police identified the three as the local leadership of the shadowy international network of computer hackers known as Anonymous, which has claimed responsibility for a wide variety of attacks.
Anonymous is composed of people from various countries organized into cells that share common goals, the police said, with activists operating anonymously in a coordinated fashion.
One of the three suspects, a 31-year-old Spaniard, was detained in the southern Spanish city of Almería sometime after May 18, the police said. He had a computer server in his apartment in the northern Spanish port city of Gijón, where the group is believed to have attacked the Web sites of the Sony PlayStation online gaming store.
The same computer server was also believed to have been used in coordinated attacks against two Spanish banks, BBVA and Bankia; the Italian energy company Enel; and government sites in Algeria, Chile, Colombia, Egypt, Libya, Iran, Spain and New Zealand, the police said.
The two other men, both also Spaniards in their early 30s, were picked up in Barcelona and Valencia. The police statement did not make clear the timing of those detentions, but a police spokeswoman said all had occurred recently.
The spokeswoman, who did not want to be identified in accordance with department policy, said all three were subsequently released, without bail, pending formal charges.
They were expected to be charged with forming an illegal association to attack public and corporate Web sites, a charge that carries a potential sentence of up to three years in prison.
The police opened their investigation last October, after hackers overwhelmed the Spanish Ministry of Culture’s Web site to protest legislation increasing punishments for illegal downloads.
It was not immediately clear how much of a role the group may have played in the recent attacks on Sony. About a dozen Sony Web sites and services around the world have been hacked; the biggest breaches forced the company, which is based in Tokyo, to shut down its popular PlayStation Network for a month beginning in April.
The Japanese company has acknowledged that hackers compromised the personal data of tens of millions of user accounts. Earlier this month, a separate hacker collective called Lulz Security, or LulzSec, said it had breached a Sony Pictures site and released vital source code.
Sony has estimated that the hacker attacks will cost it at least 14 billion yen ($175 million), in damages, including spending on information technology, legal costs, lower sales and free offers to lure back customers.
Mami Imada, a Sony spokeswoman in Tokyo, said she had no information on the detentions and declined to comment.
The police said that they had analyzed more than two million lines of chat logs since October, as well as Web pages used by the group to identify the leadership in Spain “with the capacity to make decisions and direct attacks.” Members of Anonymous used a computer program called L.O.I.C. to crash Web sites with denial-of-service attacks, the police said.
Among recent attacks, the hackers also brought down the site of the Spanish National Electoral Commission last month before regional and municipal elections. It was that attack, on May 18, that led to the detention of the suspect in Almería.
The movement against the antipiracy law has been closely linked to the broader youth-led political movements that have occurred in Puerta del Sol, the central square in Madrid, and in other city squares since May 15.
These protests have called for a complete overhaul of Spain’s political system and laws aimed at stopping illegal downloading.