When the boy is arraigned Friday in Rotterdam, he will briefly become the face of a feared, loosely organized group of "hacktivists" called "Anonymous" that has hit Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and Amazon this week and temporarily paralyzed some of them.
Dutch police working with the FBI said the boy, arrested Thursday morning at his home in The Hague, confessed to attacks on MasterCard and Visa. They said he is probably just one out of a large group and several more arrests are expected.
He's also a stark reminder of how young some of the pro-WikiLeaks hackers are, despite their ability to take down major sites temporarily.
Called "Operation Payback," the distributed denial-of-service attacks are in retaliation for the companies' cutting off services to WikiLeaks. Twitter could be the next target because of reports that it is preventing the term "WikiLeaks" as a trend.
But sources close to the teenage army that makes up a good percentage of Anonymous told AOL News they can't be stopped, no matter who is arrested, and more attacks may come if pressure is kept up on WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.
Assange was jailed in Britain not long after WikiLeaks began publishing the first of 250,000 U.S. Embassy cables and is fighting extradition to Sweden, where he faces criminal sexual allegations.
"There's no way to control them," Ernesto Van der Sar, the founder of the Amsterdam-based news and file-sharing site TorrentFreak, told AOL News today.
"They'll always find a new way to organize. There's no central command. They're a little like al-Qaida. But what they care about is the Internet."
Van der Sar said it's incorrect to even call the group "hackers." Anyone can join the Anonymous cause by downloading software called LOIC, or Low Orbit Ion Cannon, following the group's instructions and joining hundreds of other computers that swamp a targeted website with so many requests that it temporarily shuts down.
Some Anonymous activists call the attacks part of a new "Info-War" aimed at preserving free speech on the Internet. Until now, Anonymous, which originated on a hacker-friendly message board called 4chan, was best known for organizing worldwide protests against the Church of Scientology in 2008.
It has also attacked the music industry association RIAA, KISS musician Gene Simmons and lawyers who sue file-sharers.
"Now they're hitting these companies who've decided to buckle under [U.S. Sen. Joe] Lieberman and cut off WikiLeaks," Gregg Housh, a Boston-based Internet activist who was part of Anonymous during the Scientology protests, told AOL News today.
"They want other companies to see what will happen to them if they bow to government pressure. But the message is also about Julian and WikiLeaks. No matter what happens to Julian, even if he were to be assassinated, the rest of the cables are going to be released."
Most people have never heard of Anonymous, which is usually described as "shadowy" and has a self-described spokesman with the "Matrix"-style code name "Coldblood." He is apparently a 22-year-old British man named Chris Wood.
Members, estimated at about 3,000, communicate in "channels" on Internet Relay Chat networks that operate like high-tech versions of 1990s-era chat rooms, and in online forums. They toss off colorful but menacing-sounding references to "zombie botnets" and "hive minds" and write imperious manifestos about how to launch attacks like little generals.
"The method will be TCP, threads set to 10+," reads part of one missive. "At 3:00 EDT, Fire!"
The motto of Anonymous is simple, yet memorable:
"We are anonymous, we are legion, we do not forget. Expect us."
Housh and Coldblood say they know people working on behalf of Anonymous but claim they are only observers and do not condone any illegal activity. They simply serve as spokesmen.
Housh said the group is primarily comprised of very young men in their late teens and 20s, but there are also a lot of women and older people from all over the world.
"Yes, in some ways there can be a real adrenaline rush when you do something like this," Housh said. "But many people idealize the whole thing. People like us are narrowly focused. What seems foreign to other people comes easily to us. But if my car makes a noise or my garbage disposal stops working, forget it. I wouldn't have a clue what to do."
But what they do is potentially so harmful that protecting against denial-of-service attacks has becoming an increasing priority for companies around the world. Firms that specialize in defense against such cyberattacks have sprung up just since 2003.
But even the experts say they can't guarantee total protection against hacktivists, who can also target individuals.
"The Internet has a lot of holes and vulnerabilities. We have engineers watching traffic 24/7 for some of our companies. But the challenge is that the hackers are very creative and can sometimes circumvent the protections that are in place within minutes."
Housh said that Anonymous is tenacious about what members see as their mission to keep information free and flowing on the Internet.
"The more firewalls they put up, the tighter they make the controls on the Internet, the more people will come over to this side of the argument," Housh said. "Think the old way -- or think the new way."