Inside the war among global hackers
Suspected British computer hacker, Jake Davis (L), leaves City of Westminster Magistrates' Court after being released on bail, London August 1, 2011. Davis appeared in court on Monday charged with hacking offences, including hacking into the website of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).
Photograph by: Stefan Wermuth, Reuters
An 18-year-old with 16 computers in a small house in the Shetland Islands: That is where a police hunt ended for the global nerve centre of LulzSec, a group of hackers whose exploits include defacing or disabling the websites of Rupert Murdoch's media empire, the CIA, a bunch of gay-bashing American Baptists, and Britain's Serious Organized Crime Agency.
Active from May to late June, when it claims to have disbanded, LulzSec's hallmark was prankish attacks accompanied by public mockery. As well as officialdom, its targets included computer security and online gaming companies regarded as pompous, complacent or hypocritical.
In geekspeak, "lulz" means laugh at a victim; "sec" is for "security." But lately the misfortune has mostly been the hackers' own. Of LulzSec's six presumed core members, police have arrested at least two, including (now bailed out) Scottish teenager Jake Davis. The most expert, who goes by the alias Sabu, is still at large.
About 15 members of Anonymous, a shadowy collective of skilled, politically motivated hackers, are also in police custody worldwide, according to Gregg Housh, a Boston man who ran computer servers for it but denies involvement in illegal hacking.
Authorities in the U.S., Australia, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Norway and elsewhere are arresting high-profile hacktivists and threatening them with reallife jail (without, horrors, Internet access).
Old-fashioned policing, such as less severe sentences for those who snitch, is proving effective: "These are criminal networks, and there are known techniques for dealing with criminal networks," says Nils Gilman of Monitor 360, a consulting firm.
Amid this pressure, the hacker underground, driven by squabbles and splits over personality and policy, has turned on itself. Cyber civil wars have broken out, with rivals attacking each others' computers and attempting to discover and reveal their real-world identities. LulzSec itself emerged from such a row a little more than three months ago when it broke off from Anonymous. The quarrel, about which targets deserved attack, was particularly bitter, says Housh.
Upon forming, LulzSec distanced itself from its parent. The older group had been launching computer attacks against MasterCard, Visa, PayPal and others that had blocked donations to WikiLeaks. The LulzSec team of self-described "evil bastards" wrote in a news release that it preferred to abuse more ordinary folks and organizations for "a jolt of satisfaction." Devilry seemingly trumped highminded politics: The aim, says Housh, was entertainment, "screwing with a person until he can't take it anymore." But some more puritanical hackers have turned vigilante, trying to disrupt LulzSec. Its antics, they say, encourage official crackdowns on Internet freedom.Read More...