MANHATTAN (CN) - A hacker who helped the FBI track down others like him left court a free man Tuesday after a federal judge saluted his "truly extraordinary cooperation," which the government says disrupted more than 300 cyberattacks.
In addition to preventing attacks on federal courts, Congress and NASA, 30-year-old Hector Monsegur helped patch vulnerabilities to the water supply of a "major U.S. city" and the infrastructure of a foreign energy company, prosecutors said.
U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska repeatedly told the defendant "I salute you" at the Tuesday morning sentencing hearing.
"I look forward to your deploying your great skills for good," Preska concluded.
Monsegur, known online by his handle Sabu, immediately and "proactively" started providing the FBI information about the hacker collectives LulzSec and Anonymous after his arrest in June 2011. The charges could have put Monsegur in prison for life and torn him from the two cousins for whom he was a father figure.
"From the moment agents knocked on his door, [Monsegur] put his family first," defense attorney Peggy Cross-Goldenberg said at the hearing.
Prosecutors revealed Monsegur's cooperation in March 2012, shortly after announcing the indictment of five people he ultimately helped convict.
Chicago-based activist Jeremy Hammond recently was handed down a decade-long sentence for his hacking spree, most famously wresting more than 5 million private emails from the private intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting, or Stratfor. WikiLeaks later published those communications under the name "Global Intelligence Files."
The four other Anonymous members - Ryan Ackroyd, Jake Davis, Darren Martyn and Donncha O'Cearrbhail - pleaded guilty to charges last year in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
The indictment linked the co-defendants to attacks on Sony, Fox and PBS; private intelligence firms Stratfor and HBGary; the U.S. Senate and international law-enforcement agencies in the United States and Ireland.
Preska noted that it was "very, very unusual" for prosecutors to have publicized Monsegur's cooperation in their cases in a lengthy press release.
In the wake of exposure, Monsegur's brother was assaulted, and a reporter visited his cousins' school, attorney Cross-Goldenberg said.
Monsegur told the judge that he went through a "lot of changes" and "came a long way" since his arrest.
"I assure you I won't be in this court again," he said. "I'm not the same person you saw three years ago."
Hammond and his lawyers have long alleged that Monsegur goaded the attacks on Stratfor and various foreign government websites.
In November, Preska interrupted Hammond's defiant prepared statement when he started to name the countries whose websites that he claimed Monsegur urged him to hack.
Hammond's lawyer Sarah Kunstler told the New York Times on Saturday: "The government's characterization of Sabu's role is false. Far from protecting foreign governments, Sabu identified targets and actively facilitated the hacks of their computer systems."
YourAnonNews, the social-networking arm of Anonymous, took to Twitter this morning to blast the sentencing. "Jeremy Hammond is serving a ten-year sentence for hacks that Sabu (working for the feds) told him to do," it wrote (parentheses in original). "When will the feds go to prison?"
Asked at a press conference about the allegations of Hammond's lawyers, defense co-counsel Philip Weinstein replied: "I think he disclosed what he disclosed to the federal government. They're satisfied with what he disclosed. I mean, it's obviously a level of generalization due to security risks, but they're satisfied. They have the background information."
Monsegur will spend one year of supervised release and pay a mandatory $1,200 special assessment fee.
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