MANHATTAN (CN) – Newly unsealed charges against six hackers, one of whom has already pleaded guilty, shed light on the cyberattacks against international corporations and governments by Anonymous.
The information has been made public with the Monday guilty plea of 28-year-old Hector Xavier Monsegur, who went by the handle “Sabu” and was widely described as a de facto leader of the hacker group LulzSac.
Facing more than 124 years in prison, Monsegur decided to cooperate and told law enforcement about hacks into media companies like Sony, Fox and PBS; private intelligence firms like Stratfor and HBGary; the Tunisian, Algerian and Yemeni governments; the U.S. Senate and international law-enforcement agencies in the United States and Ireland.
Besides Monsegur, the only other U.S. resident to be arrested in this set of indictments is 27-year-old Chicago resident Jeremy Hammond, who goes by the handles “Anarchaos,” “sup_g,” “burn,” “yohoho,” “POW,” “tylerknowsthis” and “crediblethreat.”
The recently unsealed complaint against Hammond recounts the hack that produced Wikileaks’ latest trove.
Weeks after Anonymous broke into Stratfor servers on Christmas Eve, the hackers sent an email to clients of the Texas-based private intelligence firm.
Titled “Official Emergency Communique Straight from the Anonymous Hacker Underground,” the message did not mince words. “The sheer amount of destruction we wreaked on Stratfor’s servers is the digital equivalent of a nuclear bomb: leveling their systems in such a way that they will never be able to recover,” the letter said, as reproduced by the government.
Stratfor claimed that the attack caused $2 million in damages and lost revenue.
But it was windfall of media attention and alleged credit card spending sprees for the hackers.
Prosecutors say the breach uncovered more than five million emails, subsequently distributed by Wikileaks under the name “Global Intelligence Files.”
The ongoing releases so far have exposed details of federal surveillance of Occupy Wall Street, the possible existence of an sealed indictment of Julian Assange and global media partnerships with private spies.
Sifting through the private information of 860,000 Stratfor clients, hackers spent at least $700,000 using their credit cards, some in donations to “dozens of charities and revolutionary organizations,” according to the government.
Using the “sup_g” handle, Hammond allegedly wrote: “It may be till the end of the mnth before the cc owner recognizes the bad charges.” (Abbreviations in original.)
The government sasys Hammond was equal parts hacktivist and traditional activist, getting a long rap sheet for protesting oil companies, political figures, the Chicago Olympics and, in one instance, a Holocaust denier, at demonstrations.
“Hammond himself stated in an interview with the FBI that he intended to use hacking to fight for social justice,” the complaint states.
FBI Agent Milan Patel said that he scoured databases of arrested activists to match Hammond with his online alter egos.
Patel said his first clue surfaced when Hammond told an informant, presumably Monsegur, in a chat that “some comrades of mine were arrested in st louis a few weeks ago … for midwestrising tar sands work.”
Patel says he learned Hammond’s twin brother was one of the leaders of that protest, which opposed TransCanada’s construction of the Keystone Pipeline across the United States.
Hammond’s next misstep came when he told the informant that he was arrested for protesting the 2004 Republican National Convention, according to the complaint.
New York City police gave the FBI a list of the hundreds of arrestees, which revealed that Hammond was detained that night and interviewed by an FBI agent, according to the complaint.
Similar chats revealed that Hammond was also arrested while protesting the Chicago Olympics, a white supremacist group and a Holocaust denier, Patel says.
The same informant also helped lead law enforcement to Donncha O’Cearrbhail, a 19-year-old from Ireland who allegedly taped a call between the FBI and Scotland Yard.
Anonymous posted the call on the Internet on Feb. 3, when it launched another string of attacks.
Using the handle “Anonsacco,” O’Cearrbhail allegedly told the informant: “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 communication methods are safe or secure from Anon.”
She will face charges in New York, along with fellow Irish resident, 23-year-old Darren Martyn. Law enforcement brought Ryan Ackroyd from the Doncaster, England.
As the charges against Ackroyd, Hammond and O’Cearrbhail vary, their maximum sentences range between five and 30 years.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office says that British courts will prosecute Jake Davis, 29, from the Shetland Islands.
YourAnonNews, a Twitter feed associated with Anonymous, wrote that the leaderless hacker group would not be disrupted by the arrests. The same might not be true for LulzSec, according to the post.
“#LulzSec was a group, but #Anonymous is a movement,” YourAnonNews tweeted. “Groups come and go, ideas remain.”
The group’s Twitter feed announced a retaliatory hack on PandaSecurity later that day, linking to an article about the attack published on CNET.