Six top computer hackers associated with groups such as Anonymous, LulzSec and AntiSec have been arrested and charged in New York in connection with a series of attacks on computers used by the entertainment industry, credit card companies, intelligence firms and even an Irish political party, U.S. officials announced Tuesday.
One of the six, Hector Xavier Monsegur – also known by his computer name of “Sabu” – pleaded guilty and was said by officials to be working with the government against his former colleagues.
Monsegur was described by officials as one of the founders of LulzSec, an offshoot of the antigovernment hacking group Anonymous. LulzSec -- a corruption of the Internet chat abbreviation “lol,” or laugh out loud, and “security” -- planned and executed attacks around the world against targets the group saw as favoring established business and government institutions.
Monsegur pleaded guilty Aug. 15 to 12 counts connected to computer hacking and other crimes against Fox Broadcasting, Sony Pictures and the Public Broadcasting Service, according to the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York.
According to documents released in connection with Monsegur’s plea, the attacks began in 2008 and included Monsegur and a loose group of fellow hackers, initially operating as the antigovernment group Anonymous.
Between December 2010 and June 2011, the group took responsibility for attacking websites run by Visa, MasterCard and PayPal. The attacks were reportedly retaliation for what the group said was the credit card companies’ refusal to process donations to Wikileaks, which had dumped millions of once-secret government documents into the public sphere – much to the ire of the United States. Foreign government computer systems were also targeted, authorities said.
The hackers morphed from the original groups, working under a variety of names, including Internet Feds and Lulzsec.
Between December 2010 and May 2011, members of Internet Feds allegedly stole private information and hacked the websites of various groups -- including the Fine Gael, a political party in Ireland. Members are also accused of hacking computers used by the technology security firm HBGary Inc. and its affiliates, some of which do business with the U.S. government.
The group is said to have compromised 80,000 accounts. It’s also accused of hacking Fox computers and taking confidential information on 70,000 potential contestants on “The X-Factor.”
By May 2011, LulzSec emerged on the scene and allegedly attacked computer systems used by PBS; its actions were an apparent protest of coverage on the news show “Frontline.” Members of the group are also accused of attacking Sony Pictures, compromising 100,000 accounts and of targeting Bethesda Softworks, a video game company based in Maryland.
Monsegur, 28, pleaded guilty to three counts of computer hacking conspiracy, five counts of computer hacking, one count of computer hacking in furtherance of fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit access-device fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. He faces a maximum sentence of 124 years and six months in prison, officials said.
Late Monday, Jeremy Hammond, also known in hacking circles as “Anarchaos,” was arrested in Chicago and charged in a criminal complaint with crimes relating to the December 2011 hack of Strategic Forecasting Inc. (Stratfor), a global intelligence firm in Austin, Texas. That hacking could have affected approximately 860,000 people, officials said.
Charged on Tuesday were: Ryan Ackroyd, Jake Davis, Darren Martyn and Donncha O’Cearrbhail. All were charged in connection with various hacks allegedly carried out by Anonymous, Internet Feds or LulzSec.
O’Cearrbhail, 19, of Ireland, is accused of hacking the personal email account of an officer with Ireland’s national police service. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison if convicted. He also faces a computer hacking conspiracy charge that could imprison him for 10 years. He was arrested Tuesday in Ireland.
Ackroyd, 23, and Davis, 29, both of England, and Martyn, 25 of Ireland each were charged with two counts of computer hacking conspiracy. Each count carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, if convicted.
Davis faces additional charges in England and Ackroyd is being interviewed by authorities there, U.S. officials said.