His seven online aliases, which include Anarchaos, POW and yohoho, suggest that Jeremy Hammond, as somebody who spends much of his time at a keyboard talking to other people with aliases online, is a distrustful man. He now has even more reason to be. According to indictments revealed last week, Hammond and four other hackers were betrayed by one of their own: Hector Xavier Monsegur, a 28-year-old unemployed programmer known mainly as Sabu, who spent months as an FBI informant.
Hammond is said to be the man who last December hacked into Stratfor, a private intelligence firm, and stole a large swathe of internal e-mails, which are now being published in dribs and drabs by WikiLeaks — to the embarrassment of Stratfor’s government and corporate clients and to the mirth of everyone else. Monsegur, who is being indicted along with the others, was allegedly the leader of LulzSec, a short-lived, small band of hackers (with names like Topiary, Avunit and Pwnsauce) that gained notoriety last summer by bringing down various websites, including that of the CIA, and breaking into a few computer systems, including one belonging to the US Senate.
He is also accused of previous hacks as a member of a hitherto unknown group called the Internet Feds, and of some cases of petty thievery such as using other people’s credit cards. But in early June, at the height of LulzSec’s activities, the real Feds reportedly caught up with him after he made a basic security mistake, and he is said to have agreed to co-operate.
So he was allegedly already working for the FBI when, later in June, LulzSec announced that it was joining forces with Anonymous, a loose-knit global hacker coalition (whose Italian arm took down the Vatican’s website on 7 March), to launch an operation called AntiSec. While LulzSec claimed to be hacking “for the lulz” (ie. for fun), AntiSec was supposedly a more political effort.
But Sabu had already made enemies. LulzSec had a scattergun approach, targeting entertainment firms, a pornography site and — especially galling to other hackers — several games companies. The group began to come under attack itself. A former member is said to have posted a log of online chats between LulzSec’s members, its own site was briefly brought down and a group calling itself the A-Team “doxed” — ie. revealed personal information about — 10 people it claimed were members of LulzSec (though some have since denied it). The same post ridiculed LulzSec as amateurs and offered to provide more data on them to any law enforcement agency that wanted it.
The next day LulzSec announced it was disbanding.
Fear and loathing
AntiSec, though, continued, and over the following months, dozens of databases and websites in America and abroad, mainly belonging to government agencies, were broken into. Some of the attacks disturbed even other hackers. Last month, a statement purporting to be from Anonymous suggested that the hacking of a law firm defending an American soldier over the Haditha massacre in Iraq might be the work of government provocateurs who were trying to discredit Anonymous. Critics of AntiSec also pointed out that its main achievement was likely to be more government security, not less.
The claim of Monsegur’s treachery invites more than one question. Could AntiSec have been conceived at first as some sort of sting operation? Could Monsegur have contributed to the arrest of 25 other people on cybercrime charges in Spain and Latin America last month? Who else might have been betrayed? Whatever the truth, the hacker world must now be seething with suspicion. — (c) 2012 The Economist
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