Just one time.
After being cautious about covering his tracks, all it took was one time logging into IRC without masking his IP address for the FBI to find where Hector Xavier Monsegur was. Monsegur, also known as Anonymous and LulzSec member Sabu, had been stalked by Federal agents with no success since the public emergence of LulzSec last spring. After a clichéd good cop/bad cop routine like we’re all used to seeing on television crime drama, Monsegur finally gave in, leaving under the custody of Federal agents.
That was last summer, after a month-long hack-a-thon that brought down security at a number of organizations in the financial sector, entertainment companies like Fox and Sony, and Federal Government agencies including the CIA. Eventually in August Monsegur pled guilty to 12 counts of computer hacking and conspiracy, as well as charges filed in connection with the hacks at HBGary Federal, Fox Broadcasting, Infragard Members Alliance, and PBS.
The guilty pleas of not only Monsegur but five other hackers were released today in a press release by the FBI, citing over one million victims and additional hacks against Stratfor and International Law Enforcement.
Monsegur’s cooperation led to the arrests of the other hackers named in the FBI press release – hackers known as Topiary, Kayla, Pwnsauce, Palladim, lolspoon, and Anarchaos were also charged. After over a year of chasing their tails, this arrest was a tremendous victory for the FBI, who were under a great deal of pressure to find the perpetrators, themselves still nursing a black eye from multiple hacking operations. According to Fox News, they had already subpoenaed Monsegur’s Facebook account, found stolen credit card numbers, and had enough to charge him with aggravated identity theft, carrying a two-year sentence if he were convicted. The FBI saw more value in him as an informant with his ties to LulzSec, so they dug in. “They did a heck of a job in hunting down the ringleader and turning him around so they could go deeper into the stack,” said Rich Mogull, an analyst at Securoris. “This is classic law enforcement.”
While these hackers are mentioned as leadership in the hacking group Anonymous, Sabu himself being referred to as the leader of LulzSec, Anonymous maintains what they have always claimed – that they are an ad-hoc, leaderless organization that will survive and remain at full strength. Taking to the twitterverse, @YourAnonNews and @AnonOps both had the following statement via tweet: #Anonymous is an idea, not a group. There is no leader, there is no head. It will survive, before, during, and after this time.
There’s no telling how many more hackers or associates of LulzSec and Anonymous will be arrested thanks to Monsegur’s help. As such Barrett Brown, more or less the public face for Anonymous, branded him a traitor for cooperating with Federal agents. In his words: “My apartment was raided this morning by the FBI. Feds also came to another residence where I actually was. Sabu is a traitor. #Anonymous.” On a pseudo-related comedic note, Monsegur did get so deep into his role as an FBI informant that he tried to pass himself off as an FBI agent to police. On top of everything else, he picked up a second degree impersonation charge.
I don’t believe for a second that this is going to be the end of Anonymous. Even if their claims of being a leaderless organization are false, and Sabu did in fact hold some sort of leadership role, the contacts Sabu turned over to the FBI will only get them so far. While the perpetrators of past crimes may end up behind bars, that’s no guarantee that future perpetrators can be caught before something else goes off. Anonymous and other related hacking groups have a near-infinite pool of young bored technologists and disgruntled nerds with a great deal of skill. So far this looks like a black eye in return served by the Feds.