FBI Flips Hacker; Busts 5 More

Wednesday, March 7, 2012 @ 11:03 AM gHale

A hacker turned informant for the FBI which led to the arrest of five other hacker leaders in the U.S. and Europe.

While police have arrested others associated with Anonymous before, this was the first time police busted and identified core members of the loosely organized worldwide hacking group.

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The 28-year-old hacker known as “Sabu,” Hector Xavier Monsegur, ended up arrested last June. He is a self-taught, unemployed computer programmer with no college education. Authorities said his cooperation helped prevent more than 300 Internet attacks.

Authorities said he was living on welfare in public housing in New York as he carried out crimes that made him a hero to some in cyberspace until he made an entry-level mistake. He posted a missive online without cloaking his IP address, or computer identity and someone tipped off the FBI.

After his bust, he agreed to cooperate during an August plea proceeding and testify against others, court records show.

Among those charged Tuesday was Jeremy Hammond, 27, of Chicago. Hammond said he obtained the personal data of a former U.S. vice president and one-time CIA director as part of an attack in December of Strategic Forecasting Inc. (Stratfor), a global intelligence firm in Austin, TX, that hit 860,000 victims, investigators said.

The government said Hammond conspired to hack into computer systems used by Stratfor, which describes itself as a subscription-based provider of geopolitical analysis.

Hammond and co-conspirators stole credit card information for approximately 60,000 credit card users and used some of the stolen data to make more than $700,000 in unauthorized charges, investigators said.

Court papers said a January email entitled “Official Emergency Communique Straight from the Anonymous Hacker Underground” went to the company’s compromised customers. The email said, “The sheer amount of destruction we wreaked on Stratfor’s servers is the digital equivalent of a nuclear bomb: leveling their systems in such a way that they will never be able to recover,” according to the court records.

Investigators said Monsegur and the other defendants had connections with Anonymous, and some were also part of the elite spinoff organization that Monsegur formed last May, Lulz Security or LulzSec. “Lulz” is Internet slang for “laughs” or “amusement.”

Monsegur and the other defendants hacked into corporations and government agencies around the world, including the U.S. Senate, grabbing confidential information, defacing websites and temporarily putting victims out of business, court records said. Authorities said the hacks affected more than 1 million people.

Prosecutors said among other things, the hackers, with Monsegur as their ringleader, disrupted websites belonging to Visa, Mastercard and Paypal in 2010 and 2011 because the companies refused to accept donations to Wikileaks, the organization that spilled a trove of U.S. military and diplomatic secrets.

Also, prosecutors said, Monsegur and the others attacked a PBS website last May and planted a false story that slain rapper Tupac Shakur was alive in New Zealand. Investigators said it was retaliation for what the hackers perceived to be unfavorable news coverage of Wikileaks on the PBS program “Frontline.”

A Twitter account associated with Monsegur has some 45,000 followers and regularly spouts expletive-filled anti-government messages. His last tweet on Monday was in German. “Don’t give in to these people,” the message read. “Fight back. Stay strong.”

Monsegur pleaded guilty in August to charges that included conspiracy to commit hacking, admitting he obtained dozens of credit card numbers online and gave them to others or used them to pay his bills. His lawyer, Philip L. Weinstein, declined to comment Tuesday.

His deal with prosecutors requires his full cooperation and testimony at any trial. In return, he gets leniency from a potential prison sentence of more than 120 years. He is free on $50,000 bail.

Also charged with conspiracy to commit computer hacking were Ryan Ackroyd, 25, of Doncaster, England; Jake Davis, 19, of Lerwick, Scotland; Darren Martyn, 25, of Galway, Ireland, and Donncha O’Cearrbhail, 19, of Birr, Ireland.

Davis’ lawyer, Adel Buckingham, declined comment. Contact information for the other European defendants’ lawyers were not immediately available for comment.

Hammond, who police arrested Monday, appeared before a federal judge in Chicago who ordered him transferred to New York.

Defense attorney Jim Fennerty described Hammond as compassionate, saying he had rallied against plans to hold the 2016 Olympics in Chicago because he felt it would hurt low-income people and had protested against neo-Nazi groups.

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