Expert: FBI Taps Hackers to Be Informants

Montage: Melanie Gamarra

The FBI and U.S. Secret Service have used the threat of prison to create an army of informers, resulting in nearly one in four hackers becoming a cyberspace snitch, according to experts who spoke to the Guardian.

Eric Corley, who publishes hacker magazine 2600, told the U.K. newspaper he believes nearly 25 percent of hackers in the U.S. may have been recruited by the feds to be their spies in cyberspace.

“Owing to the harsh penalties involved and the relative inexperience with the law that many hackers have, they are rather susceptible to intimidation,” Corley said.

John Young, who runs Cryptome, said there are “dozens and dozens” of hackers who were turned over to the feds by ostensibly trustworthy compatriots.

Case in point: Adrian Lamo, an ex-hacker-turned-informant on Bradley Manning, who is accused of passing secret documents to WikiLeaks. Manning had begun communicating online with Lamo, whom he trusted and asked for advice. Lamo, on the other hand, decided to give up Manning to the military authorities, a decision he defended to the Guardian as “certainly . . .  no picnic for me”

The FBI has been busy as of late with pursuing hacktivists whose high-profile cyber attacks have garnered considerable media attention. Lulz Security recently defaced InfraGard, an volunteer watchdog organization with ties to the FBI, in response to to the recent White House proposal to categorize cyber attacks as acts of war.

Also linked to recent attacks on Sony, PBS and Fox, LulzSec shares similarities with Anonymous, the online collective that in the past months cyber attacked what it deemed were enemies of WikiLeaks and targeted others for political reasons, or sometimes, simply for the “lulz.”

While LulzSec is a more recent occurrence and has so far escaped the long arm of the law, Anonymous has not been that lucky. The Guardian said in January alone, there were raids on 40 addresses in the U.S. and five in the U.K. Wired magazines senior editor Kevin Poulsen stold the Guardian he believes Anonymous is classically vulnerable to infiltration and disruption.

“We have already begun to see Anonymous members attack each other and out each other’s IP addresses,” he said. “That’s the first step towards being susceptible to the FBI.”

Barrett Brown, a spokesman for Anonymous, said the collective knows about the FBI’s interest.

“The FBI are always there,” he told the Guardian. “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.”

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