Five key members of the hacker group LulzSec have today been arrested, with the revelation that the alleged leader of the group has been working for the FBI since mid-2011.
Hector Xavier Monsegur, a 28-year-old Puerto Rican living in New York and known by his nickname “Sabu”, was reportedly charged with 12 criminal counts of conspiracy to engage in computer hacking and, according to documents unsealed in a Manhattan court on Tuesday, subsequently pleaded guilty to attacks on the websites of PayPal and Mastercard. According to The Guardian, charges were filed via a “criminal information” form, meaning that it is likely Monsegur has been cooperating with the government whilst maintaining the pretense of operating as an underground hacker. Following today’s arrests, which included two British and two Irish hackers, it appears Monsegur may have betrayed them by turning them over to the FBI, presumably to secure a reduction in his sentence.
LulzSec is linked to the more well-known hacking group, Anonymous, who have been responsible for a series of high-profile attacks on the websites of organizations including the CIA and Britain’s Serious Organised Crime Agency. Today’s revelation raises questions about how many other hackers associated with LulzSec and Anonymous are actually working as government informants — and increases suspicions, already voiced in the alternative media, that such loose collectives may unwittingly be helping governments in their efforts to further control and restrict the internet.
At a time when governments are working hard to stifle internet freedoms — just today, the British government was given the green light to implement the draconian Digital Economy Bill and start implementing sanctions on alleged illegal downloaders — LulzSec’s and Anonymous’ attacks provide the authorities with the perfect justification for such laws, as well as the excuse to push through even more restrictive internet legislation.
Beyond causing a relatively minor and short-lived inconvenience to government agencies and corporations, the longer term usefulness and effectiveness of the hacking collectives’ attacks is questionable. The public is generally unsympathetic to LulzSec’s and Anonymous’ attacks due to the inconvenience they cause, the seeming lack of coherence in the groups’ aims, and the somewhat juvenile image presented by both groups.
This could create a classic “problem-reaction-solution” situation, where the public reacts to the seemingly chaotic and threateningly anonymous hacking groups by accepting a government solution they may previously have resisted — stricter regulation of the Internet. It would be grimly ironic if groups proclaiming to fight for internet freedoms were in reality being used as a tool — infiltrated and steered by the very intelligence agencies they have apparently attacked — to kill those very freedoms.