Hackers Arrested as One Turns Witness

Updated March 6, 2012, 9:54 p.m. ET


Federal prosecutors brought charges against a group of men allegedly behind
"LulzSec"-a globe-spanning collective of computer hackers who wreaked havoc
on companies, governments and individuals world-wide-after one turned
government informant.

Federal prosecutors unveiled criminal charges on Tuesday against six people
in the U.S. and abroad they described as important members of a computer
hacking group that allegedly stole confidential information from major
companies, Joanna Chung reports on digits. Photo: Getty Images.

Court Documents

The U.S. has charged six people described as important members of the
computer-hacking groups Anonymous and Lulz Security.

Known in hacking circles as "Sabu," the alleged informant, 28-year-old
Hector Xavier Monsegur, who lived in and worked from a public-housing
project in New York City, was arrested in June by the Federal Bureau of
Investigation and became a cooperating witness, according to a person
familiar with the matter and a charging document.

The hackers' group known as Lulz Security, or LulzSec, formed last May and
claimed responsibility for a series of brazen online attacks. Members
claimed to have hacked into the computers of television network PBS last May
in retaliation for a "Frontline" episode about WikiLeaks, and hacked Sony
Pictures computers and stole personal information about 100,000 of its
customers. Its biggest attack came last June, with the alleged theft of data
about 200,000 users of a website for the game Brink, which is produced by
Bethesda Softworks. These and other attacks are cited in the charging
documents released Tuesday.

LulzSec is just one of several shadowy, and often highly competitive, hacker
groups that have sprung to global prominence over the past year. They are
loosely organized, often with no central leadership, and typically
communicate online using pseudonyms. Federal prosecutors described Mr.
Monsegur in charging documents as an "influential" member of three such
hacking organizations-LulzSec and two others known as Anonymous and Internet
Feds. A request for comment made to a prominent Anonymous Twitter account
went unanswered.

The FBI's investigation culminated in criminal charges Tuesday against four
people allegedly associated with LulzSec in the U.K. and Ireland. Lawyers
for those men, Ryan Ackroyd and Jake Davis of the U.K. and Darren Martyn and
Donncha O'Cearrbhail of Ireland, couldn't be located for comment Tuesday.
According to law-enforcement officials, Mr. Davis is out on bond and the
other three men were arrested in the U.K. and Ireland on Tuesday.

A sixth person, Jeremy Hammond, who was allegedly part of another hacking
group, AntiSec, was arrested in Chicago on Monday and charged with
conspiracy to commit computer hacking, computer hacking and conspiracy to
commit access device fraud. Mr. Hammond's lawyer didn't return a call
seeking comment Tuesday.

In a July 31, 2011, chat, Mr. Hammond, using the alias "POW," allegedly said
that "dumpster diving is all good I'm a freegan goddess," according to one
of the charging documents. Agents who have conducted surveillance of Mr.
Hammond have seen him going into dumpsters to get food, according to the

In August, Mr. Monsegur pleaded guilty to 12 counts, including three counts
of conspiracy to engage in computer hacking, computer hacking in furtherance
of fraud, conspiracy to commit access device fraud, conspiracy to commit
bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. The FBI received an anonymous tip
that led to his arrest last year, according to a person familiar with the
matter. After Mr. Monsegur began cooperating with the FBI, he passed on
information that helped the agents thwart more than 300 attacks that other
hackers were planning, the person said. Mr. Monsegur's lawyer declined to

Known as hacktivists, groups like these have exposed how vulnerable computer
systems are to meddling or damage, not just at corporations but also among
governments and law-enforcement agencies. They are difficult to break up in
part because their membership and operations can span national borders. Also
distinguishing these groups from past hackers: Their ability to carve out a
prominent place in the public consciousness. They achieved it not only
through high-profile attacks but also by a savvy use of Twitter and other
Internet means to promote their message.

LulzSec initially justified its attacks as a form of alerting companies to
poor security of their computer systems. But the group also said it was
having fun, as typified by the "lulz" in its name, which is Internet slang
for "laughing out loud."

LulzSec's home page played the theme from the 1970s TV show "The Love Boat,"
and the group's Twitter account included an image of a stick-figure drawing
of a man complete with a top hat, monocle and what appeared to be a glass of
wine. Its tagline: "Laughing at your security since 2011!"

Online, the hacker known as Sabu-whom prosecutors now allege was Mr.
Monsegur-was well known to be the leader of the LulzSec group, according to
John D'Arcy, an assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame Mendoza
College of Business, who studies hacking. "He was almost like a
cyber-celebrity," he said.

Online Tuesday, Sabu became the target of vitriolic criticism from
sympathizers of Anonymous.

According to one of the charging documents, Mr. Monsegur was recruited into
Anonymous by other hackers in December 2010, and later broke off to
participate in other hacking collectives including LulzSec.

In one of the charging complaints unsealed Tuesday, Mr. O'Cearrbhail, who
went by the Internet nickname "anonsacco," asked a cooperating witness for
help listening in on a conference call between a U.K. law-enforcement agency
and the FBI. That cooperating witness was Mr. Monsegur, according to a
person familiar with the matter.

"This will be epic," said anonsacco on Jan. 14, 2012, in a private online
chat room, according to a transcript in one of the charging documents. "I
think we need to hype it up. Let the feds think we have been recording their
calls. They will be paranoid that none of their communications methods are
safe or secure from Anon."

Tuesday's charges highlight the aggressiveness of law-enforcement
authorities, who have increasingly turned to secretly recorded phone
conversations and cooperating witnesses to build cases. "The arrests mean
that the same methods that proved to work best against old style
criminals-informants, undercover officers, etc.-work best against new style
criminals, as well," said John Pescatore, security analyst at the research
firm, Gartner Inc.

Last June, when LulzSec said it was ceasing operations after a nearly
two-month spree of electronic break-ins, there were questions about whether
the attackers would simply regroup to pursue other mischief. "It's time to
say bon voyage," LulzSec wrote in a message posted at the time, without
saying why it was discontinuing its activity. The message included thanks
from its "crew of six" to its supporters on the Internet.

In addition to the Sony and PBS attacks, LulzSec has claimed responsibility
for attacks on the U.S. Senate and InfraGard, an affiliate of the Atlanta
chapter of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Those attacks are also cited
in Tuesday's charging documents.

The complaints unsealed Tuesday described a conspiracy going back to
December 2010, through the formation of Internet Feds, a group that came
into existence before LulzSec. Taken together, the alleged hacking involving
the six people affected more than one million people through the disclosure
of their personal data, law-enforcement officials said.

The complaints also describe an alleged attack on Fox Broadcasting Co. that
led to the disclosure of personal information related to more than 70,000
potential contestants on the TV show "X Factor." Fox is owned by News Corp.,
owner of The Wall Street Journal. Fox, Sony Pictures and PBS declined to
comment. Bethesda Softworks didn't return a call seeking comment.

In one instance, hackers also were able to access and secretly record a
telephone call between U.S., Irish and other law-enforcement officials,
which was later posted on Google Inc.'s YouTube.

Louis Monsegur, a family member of the man accused of being Sabu, said
Tuesday his relative was "into computers" from a young age, but that he was
surprised by the breadth of the allegations against him. "I never knew the
kid was into stuff like that," he said of Hector. "He's a smart kid."

-Ian Sherr, Cassell Bryan-Low and Alison Fox contributed to this article.



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