Hacker ring busted after leader turns FBI informant

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Five alleged computer hackers in Britain, Ireland and the United States were charged Tuesday in high-profile cyberattacks after a leader of the group became an FBI informant.

The charges against alleged members of Anonymous, Lulz Security and other international hacking groups were unveiled in indictments unsealed by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The indictments cover some of the most notorious hacking incidents of the past several years including those against Sony Pictures Entertainment, private intelligence firm Stratfor and computer security firm HBGary.

The defendants were also accused of involvement in attacks on videogame maker Bethesda Softworks, the Irish police, the Irish political party Fine Gael, the Fox Broadcasting Company and the Public Broadcasting Service.

The five charged were Britons Ryan Ackroyd, 23, of Doncaster; and Jake Davis, 29, of Lerwick, Shetland Islands; Darren Martyn, 25, of Galway, Ireland; Donncha O’Cearrbhail, 19, of Birr, Ireland; and Jeremy Hammond, 27, of Chicago.

The US authorities also revealed that Hector Xavier Monsegur, 28, of New York, who was known by the screen name “Sabu,” had pleaded guilty to a series of computer hacking crimes which could land him in prison for 124 years.

US law enforcement officials declined to confirm that Monsegur, a leader of Anonymous offshot Lulz Security, or LulzSec, had been cooperating with the US authorities but Fox News said he has been secretly working with the FBI for months.

According to court papers released Tuesday, Monsegur pleaded guilty in August to 12 hacking-related charges and admitted involvement in attacks by Anonymous on the websites of MasterCard, PayPal and Visa and the Algerian, Tunisian, Yemeni and Zimbabwean governments.

Ackroyd, who went by the screen name “kayla,” and Davis, known as “topiary,” were both arrested last year in Britain. They each face two counts of computer hacking conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Martyn, whose screen name was “pwnsauce,” also faces two counts of computer hacking conspiracy while O’Cearrbhail, known online as “palladium,” faces one count of computer hacking conspiracy and another of disclosing an unlawfully intercepted phone call which could send him to prison for five years.

O’Cearrbhail was specifically charged with accessing, secretly recording and publicly releasing a recording of a January 17 conference call between the FBI and Scotland Yard discussing operations against Anonymous.

According to the court papers, O’Cearrbhail found out about the phone call and how to access it by hacking into the personal email account of an officer with Ireland’s national police, the An Garda Siochana, or Garda.

Hammond faces one count of computer hacking conspiracy, one count of computer hacking, and one count of conspiracy to commit access device fraud. Each count carries a maximum sentence of 10 years behind bars.

Hammond, who went by the screen name “Anarchaos,” was accused of hacking into the computer network of Stratfor in December 2011, stealing credit card information about 60,000 users, account information about 860,000 Stratfor subscribers or clients and emails from the Texas-based firm.

The Stratfor emails were later turned over to WikiLeaks, which began publishing them last month, and the credit card information was used to make $700,000 in unauthorized purchases, according to the indictment.

Members of Anonymous downplayed the charges on Tuesday, saying on Twitter feed @anonops that “LulzSec was a group, but Anonymous is a movement. Groups come and go, ideas remain.”

“Anonymous is a hydra, cut off one head and we grow two back,” the group said on another Twitter feed, @YourAnonNews.

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