FBI Recruits One in Four U.S. Hackers as Informants

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies have successfully recruited as many as one in four U.S. hackers as informants or operatives, according to an investigation by The Guardian UK.

Using the threat of prosecution and the likelihood of long prison sentences, law enforcement has established a large base of otherwise underground technophiles to supplement investigations.

"Owing to the harsh penalties involved and the relative inexperience with the law that many hackers have, they are rather susceptible to intimidation," said Eric Corley, publisher of the hacker digest 2600.

Law enforcement's infiltration of the hacker underground has been so successful that the once brazen community is now fraught with "paranoia and mistrust," according to the report.

"It makes for very tense relationships. There are dozens and dozens of hackers who have been shopped by people they thought they trusted," said Cryptome's John Young.

The article goes on to explain how the FBI has actually been able to take over the administration of some of the more infamous criminal forums, many used as black market sales platforms for stolen information like social security numbers and credit card details.

One of the most famous examples of hacker-turned-informant is the case of Adrian Lamo, a convicted hacker responsible for breaching networks belonging to The New York Times, Yahoo, and Microsoft.

Lamo came into contact and initially befriended WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning through instant messaging as Manning sought advice on his clandestine endeavors. Lamo later turned Manning into authorities out of concern that Manning's activities posed a threat to security and potentially put lives at risk.

Manning has been in custody for over a year awaiting trial, with sporadic reports that his detention has been less than comfortable, much of it spent in isolation from the general prison population.

"Obviously it's been much worse for him but it's certainly been no picnic for me. He followed his conscience, and I followed mine," Lamo said.

The decision to turn in Manning lead to widespread disdain for Lamo amongst the hacker community, and for a time earned him the reputation as the "world's most hated hacker".

Disharmony has also worked its way into some of the more well known "hacker collectives" - loosely organized groups who sometimes rally their efforts to undertake distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks or work in unison to breach private corporate and government networks.

Of note is the mini-civil war that erupted earlier this year when a faction of the rogue movement Anonymous called Backtrace Security split form the main group and made attempts to "dox" other Anonymous participants. Doxing is the act of collecting and publishing a covert hacker's information and expose their identity.

"We have already begun to see Anonymous members attack each other and out each other's IP addresses. That's the first step towards being susceptible to the FBI," said Wired magazine's senior editor Kevin Poulsen.

Interestingly, the hacker underground is quite aware of the presence of law enforcement, and seem to view the threat of exposure, arrest, and prosecution as an operational risk that just comes with the territory.

"The FBI are always there. They are always watching, always in the chatrooms. You don't know who is an informant and who isn't, and to that extent you are vulnerable," said Barrett Brown, the sometimes self-anointed spokesman for Anonymous.

Source:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/jun/06/us-hackers-fbi-informer

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