Hacker mastermind revealed as FBI mole

As ‘Sabu’, he was the powerful leader of international hacking collective LulzSec. But Hector Monsegur was an FBI informant – and his unmasking could spell the end of ‘hacktivism’.

From his battered laptop in a New York flat, Hector Xavier Monsegur was the epicentre of a global network. The 28-year-old father of two was the controller of LulzSec: an international hacking collective that infiltrated international organisations, stole top secret information, and caused millions of dollars worth of damage.

Or so it seemed. Monsegur – or Sabu, as he was known online – was actually an FBI informant. He had been arrested in August 2011, and since then had been sharing all his knowledge of international hacking with the FBI. Yesterday, five leading ‘hacktivists’ were arrested as a result.

One official described the swoop as ‘chopping off the head of LulzSec’; others hailed it as the beginning of the end for the wider underground hacking movement, known as Anonymous.

The collective, however, is unruffled. ‘Anonymous is an idea, not a group,’ one member wrote on a blog. ‘There is no leader, there is no head. It will survive before, during and after this time.’

The defiance is no surprise. Anonymous is a loose collective of hackers: some are opposed to corporate power and online censorship, others cause chaos ‘for lulz’ – internet speak for laughs. Together they form an anarchic – and often powerful – group.

Their achievements include some frighteningly effective hacks. When Paypal and Mastercard refused to accept donations to Wikileaks, Anonymous launched DDoS attacks that caused their servers to crash. When they floored Sony’s Playstation network, the company lost $171 million. During the Arab Spring the collective even targeted the Tunisian government, altering their public site in support of the growing revolution on the ground.

Now, they have responded to the arrests of their comrades with more attacks, taking down the websites of a well-known security company. The FBI, however, think we might be seeing less action from the collective in coming months. Without the expertise, organisation and ideology of key leaders, they hope, Anonymous will not be able to continue.

Dangerous collective

‘A handful of geniuses surrounded by legions of idiots’ is how one expert describes Anonymous. Without figures to guide and inspire, some say, their movement will descend into chaos: a collection of directionless geeks – capable of causing inconvenience, but a menace to no-one.

Others think Anonymous is more potent than that. Its power lies in individuals, who can hit huge, powerful governments and corporations with just a computer. And in a society that depends so wholly on electronic systems, the potential reach of just a few committed, leaderless hackers cannot be underestimated.

You Decide

  1. Are ‘hacktivists’ heroes or villains?
  2. Is cybercrime a serious threat to society?

Activities

  1. LulzSec has become famous for its logo – a comical figure with a top hat and a moustache. Imagine you are starting your own hacking collective: what do you choose for your logo and name?
  2. If you could gain access to any website in the world, what would you choose? Write a short paragraph about what you would choose, and why.

Some People Say...

“Hackers are just losers.”

What do you think?

Q & A

How do these hacking techniques actually threaten my everyday life?
By forcing companies to install formidable security systems or disabling their sites, hackers cost companies millions of dollars. They might want to target corporate greed, but those losses could mean increased prices or more redundancies. In the past, Anonymous and LulzSec have even stolen customers’ private information – which, if made public, could be used to break into their bank accounts or private documents.
Who else uses these hacking techniques?
Governments are already using hacking technology. The famous Stuxnet worm – thought to be the work of Israeli security forces – crippled Iran’s nuclear program by attacking key computers.

Word Watch

LulzSec
The name LulzSec comes from internet slang for laughs: its members hack organisations not out of any deeply-held political belief, but just for the mischievous pleasure of causing chaos. The organisation spun off the larger hacker collective Anonymous, which has more serious objectives: opposing internet censorship of all kinds, and heavily criticising what they see as corporate greed.
Hacktivists
Anonymous might be described as ‘hacktivists’, a new phrase to describe people that use hacking to pursue political goals. Anonymous, for example, target the websites of courts, security companies and the police, because they believe these institutions are restricting freedom of expression.
Wikileaks
The brainchild of Julian Assange, Wikileaks publishes anonymously submitted documents from governments, corporations and other organisations. Their leaks range from petty comments on politicians to footage of illegal shootings in war zones.
DDoS
This stands for Distributed Denial of Service and refers to a relatively crude form of hacking. It means flooding a server with so much traffic from individual computers that it crashes, and the webpage becomes unavailable.

Subjects

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