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Anonymous attack on Children’s Hospital continues

Boston Children’s Hospital continued to be hit with a cyberattack Friday, even as a split emerged among members of the loose collective known as Anonymous over targeting the medical institution for its role in the controversial Justina Pelletier custody case.

Some members of the hacker network claimed credit on Friday for the attacks on Children’s website in retaliation for the hospital bringing medical child abuse charges against Pelletier’s parents. One of those members said on a Twitter account Friday that the strikes against Children’s would subside.

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Meanwhile, one of the most popular Twitter accounts associated with the Anonymous network posted a message criticizing the hackers behind the Children’s attack and called on them to stop.

However, as of late Friday afternoon, a Children’s spokesman said the level of attack aimed at its website remained unchanged. The Children’s main website has withstood those attacks and stayed up on Friday.

But as a precaution, the hospital took down several related sites that are used so that patients and physicians can log on remotely to manage appointments and check test results. It also removed a site used to make donations to the hospital.

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Children’s said that so far no patient data has been compromised and that patient care has not been interrupted.

The hospital alerted law enforcement about the attacks. Neither the Boston Police Department nor the FBI would confirm whether they are investigating.

The cyberattacks on Children’s appear to have started April 20. Hackers are using a form of denial-of-service attack that floods a Web server with Internet traffic to overwhelm the site and potentially bring it down.

This particular attack mimics real Web traffic and is tough to defend against, said Coach Wei, chief executive of Yottaa, an Internet software and security firm in Boston.

Members of the Anonymous community claimed responsibility for an earlier attack on the website of Wayside Youth and Family Support Network, the Framingham facility where 15-year-old Justina resides.

The Pelletier family has drawn a number of sympathizers in their battle to win back custody of Justina from the state. In March, a Massachusetts juvenile court judge sided with Children’s physicians and ruled that the Pelletiers were not able to care for Justina’s complex medical and psychiatric needs. The judge gave permanent custody of the teen to the state.

Members of the “Free Justina” movement adamantly disagree with that decision and call for Justina to be returned to her parents.

Yet, Justina’s mother, Linda Pelletier, said she could not condone online attacks against Children’s.

Anonymous is not a single organization but rather a movement of online activists who come together over various causes. They are best known for taking on big banks or government agencies.

But it is not unusual for individual members within the network to strike out on their own in the hope of rallying support for a particular case.

In the Justina Pelletier case, there does not appear to be a widespread response from within the broader Internet activist, or “hacktivist,” community for using the Anonymous banner to go after the hospital.

“The dicey acts such as these have always been condemned by the big accounts and many participants” in the Anonymous community, said Gabriella Coleman, a professor at McGill University and an Anonymous expert. “Very, very few people in Anonymous support actions that can lead to physical harm.”

Coleman said it appeared that a “fringe element” within Anonymous decided to take up the Pelletier cause and go after the hospital.

Michael B. Farrell can be reached at michael.farrell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeMBFarrell.
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