The term “hacker” can often do a disservice to the various motivations, organizations and methods behind information breaches. Recently charged Chinese cyber-agents, for example, have little in common with hacktivists like Anonymous and LulzSec who target high profile sites to social statements.
Agnostic of motivation, breaking and entering secure databases or taking out websites requires a deep understanding of code and systems architecture. Participation in breaches can also include a deep knowledge of the players in the game. That latter has allowed former LulzSec leader Hector Xavier Monsegur to avoid additional jail time, acting as an informant to federal forces and giving them information about various hacking methods, vulnerabilities and individuals.
On May 27, a judge sentenced Monsegur, also known by his LulzSec moniker “Sabu,” to time served and called for his release. Monsegur had been a mole for various law enforcement agencies since 2011, and his tips aided in the arrest of several LulzSec members as well as Anonymous’ Jeremey Hammond. Hammond, who was arrested in November 2013, was sentenced to 10 years in a federal prison for leaking information from a private intelligence firm through WikiLeaks.
Needless to say, those in the hacking community were vocal about Monsegurs involvement as a mole, and have painted him as the classic “snitch” looking for an easy way to save his own skin.
Anonymous, which frequently colors its activities as protest rather than crime, said in a statement to The Guardianthat, “the FBI continues to use captured informants, who commit egregious crimes in pursuit of reduced sentences, for the sole purpose of creating ‘examples’ to frighten the public. They do this with the hope of pacifying online dissent and snuffing out journalistic investigations into the US government’s misconduct.”
But despite questions around the moral judgment of Federal Bureau of Investigation, which allowed the informant to conduct felonies to lure out members of the hacking community, Monsegur’s efforts have been applauded by officials. According to court documents his tips helped plug security holes in United State water infrastructure, as well as foreign power facilities.
Monsegur’s breaches are said to have caused as much as $50 million in damages. However, Judge Loretta Preska, who commuted Monsegur’s sentences after only seven months of imprisonment said in her decision, “you have done as much as any human can do” to make up for those actions, she added, “and I salute you for that.”
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