While a number of members of Anonymous woke up to the sounds of an FBI raid yesterday, the rest of us woke up to the news that one of the group's most prominent members was acting as a government informant.
When the dust had settled, Sabu, a prolific hacker associated with LulzSec, Anti-Sec and the broader Anonymous community, was revealed to be a 28-year-old unemployed father of two from New York named Hector Monsegnur. After being arrested secretly last June and threatened with the loss of his children and a possible 124-year prison sentence, Monsegnur agreed to cooperate with law enforcement. The information he provided led to yesterday's arrest of six additional Anonymous members and further charges against those who had already been caught.
Over the past year, Monsegnur (as Sabu) had become one of the most visible and outspoken members of the hacking-oriented wing of Anonymous. He was widely considered to be the architect of a number of high-profile attacks carried out during LulzSec's "50 Days of Lulz" in mid-2011 and had been involved in Anti-Sec's campaign against online security companies affiliated with the U.S. government.
The case of Sabu raises a number of interesting questions, not the least of which is whether these arrests will have a significant impact on Anonymous' activities. While it's certainly true that Anonymous has now lost a few individuals with the right mix of swagger and technical knowledge to engage in legitimate hacking, it doesn't appear to have slowed them down much; even as the news of Sabu's deception was breaking, Anonymous was busy hacking the website of Panda Security.
As well, the way the FBI conducted its investigation will undoubtedly make some feel uneasy. A nine-month long infiltration of LulzSec with a double agent encouraging and overseeing additional hacks will raise concerns about entrapment.
I'm also curious if any of those involved were profiting financially from their hacking activities. Whether or not you agree with Anonymous and LulzSec, the groups have seemingly occupied the high ground by hacking for ideological, as opposed to selfish, purposes. Should it be proven otherwise, it could be an even more damaging blow to Anonymous than the arrests themselves.
However, the most interesting question may go unanswered. Given that Sabu had been keeping the FBI informed of Anonymous activities since last June, why did they allow prominent security contractor Stratfor to be hacked last Christmas, and the subsequent cache of emails to be handed over to Wikileaks? It appears that the FBI may have been willing to sacrifice Stratfor to get more dirt on both Anonymous and Julian Assange.
The manner of Sabu's apprehension reveals a lot about how seriously the FBI is taking its investigation of Anonymous. Monsegnur was apparently caught because just once, he failed to hide his IP address before logging into an IRC chat. This would indicate that law enforcement has infiltrated enough of the popular IRC relays to be able to get that kind of information. As one observer put it, "we've always suspected they could [do this], now we know."
I expect that more information, and possibly more arrests, will be made public in the near future and it should help us make better sense of how significant Sabu's treachery is. But given that this latest news comes only days after some 25 Anonymous members were arrested in a sweep across Europe and South America, what is already clear is that the hacker crackdown appears to have begun anew.