Federal prosecutors have charged six alleged members of the Anonymous “hacktivist” group with conspiracy and computer hacking-related crimes after it emerged that an alleged leading member of the collective had turned informant of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Among those charged by the US Department of Justice in the US and elsewhere was Hector Xavier Monsegur, a New York resident whose online identity is alleged to be Sabu, one of Anonymous and LulzSec’s most prominent figures.
Mr. Monsegur has been co-operating with the FBI for months, a law enforcement official said.
Others charged in the case include Ryan Ackroyd, alleged to use the online name Kayla, and Jake Davis, the teenager who police believe operated as Topiary, both among several arrests made in the UK last year as part of an international swoop against the hacker network.
Anonymous is a large, amorphous group of so-called hacktivists who have aligned themselves with the anti-capitalist protesters Occupy Wall Street and the whistleblowing site WikiLeaks. They have carried out hacking raids on corporations and institutions including Sony, the CIA, News Corp’s British tabloid The Sun and the UK’s Serious Organized Crime Agency.
Court documents said that Mr. Monsegur had been involved in denial-of-service attacks – whereby a site is flooded with so much traffic it becomes swamped and is knocked offline – against Visa, PayPal and MasterCard in December 2010. The attack was dubbed “Operation Payback” after the companies refused to process funds for WikiLeaks.
The court papers said he had also hacked government IT systems in the Middle East, including Tunisia and Algeria.
In an attack on News Corp’s Fox Broadcasting, Mr. Monsegur is alleged to have stolen confidential information relating to contestants on the reality TV show X Factor. He is also accused of having used his hacking skills for personal gain, including credit card fraud and hijacking the systems of an automotive parts supplier to have thousands of dollars of engine components shipped to him.
Although a key part of Anonymous’s philosophy is that it lacks hierarchy and is open to any volunteers, Sabu was among the most prominent members of the group alongside others with the online names Kayla, T-flow and Topiary, who claimed to execute some of its most aggressive online attacks, including on the security firm HBGary.
In a posting to his Twitter account, which has remained silent since news of the arrests broke, Sabu told his 45,000 followers that the US government was run by “cowards”: “Don’t give in to these people. Fight back. Stay strong.” In his last public post, in German, he quotes Rosa Luxembourg, the German communist revolutionary: “The revolution says I am, I was, I will be.”
“This is not the end of Anonymous,” said Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at F-Secure, an internet security firm. “But it’s going to take them a while to recover from the paranoia they must be feeling right now. While Anonymous is often characterized as having no leaders, Sabu was clearly one they were looking up to. Now that they realize they should not have trusted Sabu, who can they trust?”