June 6, 2011 in News
One in four US hackers ‘is an FBI informer’ (guardian.co.uk):
The underground world of computer hackers has been so thoroughly infiltrated in the US by the FBI and secret service that it is now riddled with paranoia and mistrust, with an estimated one in four hackers secretly informing on their peers, a Guardian investigation has established.
Cyber policing units have had such success in forcing online criminals to co-operate with their investigations through the threat of long prison sentences that they have managed to create an army of informants deep inside the hacking community.
In some cases, popular illegal forums used by cyber criminals as marketplaces for stolen identities and credit card numbers have been run by hacker turncoats acting as FBI moles. In others, undercover FBI agents posing as “carders” – hackers specialising in ID theft – have themselves taken over the management of crime forums, using the intelligence gathered to put dozens of people behind bars.
So ubiquitous has the FBI informant network become that Eric Corley, who publishes the hacker quarterly, 2600, has estimated that 25% of hackers in the US may have been recruited by the federal authorities to be their eyes and ears. “Owing to the harsh penalties involved and the relative inexperience with the law that many hackers have, they are rather susceptible to intimidation,” Corley told the Guardian.
“It makes for very tense relationships,” said John Young, who runs Cryptome, a website depository for secret documents along the lines of WikiLeaks. “There are dozens and dozens of hackers who have been shopped by people they thought they trusted.”
The best-known example of the phenomenon is Adrian Lamo, a convicted hacker who turned informant on Bradley Manning, who is suspected of passing secret documents to WikiLeaks. Manning had entered into a prolonged instant messaging conversation with Lamo, whom he trusted and asked for advice. Lamo repaid that trust by promptly handing over the 23-year-old intelligence specialist to the military authorities. Manning has now been in custody for more than a year.
Feds versus the hacker underground: army of informers turned by fear (guardian.co.uk):
When Jeff Moss, popularly known as the Dark Tangent, started holding underground hacker conferences in Las Vegas he knew he had a problem. All previous gatherings had been strictly invitation-only to ensure privacy. Moss wanted his convention to be open to all hackers, and that would inevitably draw the unwelcome attendance of undercover FBI agents. “I knew law enforcement would show up whether I wanted it or not, so I decided to put them on notice.”
Moss initiated a game at his events called Spot the Fed. If a delegate detected someone they thought was a cop they could stand up and denounce them. If correct, they would win a T-shirt printed with the logo: “I spotted the Fed.”
The game became an instant sensation. “People were really excited about it,” Moss says. That was in the 1990s. Since then Moss’s annual conference, Defcon, has turned into one of the largest hacker meetings in the world and those early examples of outed Feds trying to pass undetected among the Defcon crowd have also grown into an entire industry, a specialism of modern policing, with highly trained and computer literate FBI and secret service agents running an army of informants who now pervade the hacker community.
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