The Internet "hacktivist" collective known as Anonymous has unleashed a full-scale and crippling online attack on a man who was about to blow the roof off the group’s hidden identity.
Aaron Barr, chief executive of the Washington, D.C.-based security firm HBGary Federal, planned to unmask members of Anonymous, the group that organized Internet attacks both on businesses that cut ties with WikiLeaks and, most recently, against government websites in Tunisia and Egypt.
On Saturday, the Financial Times ran a story in which Barr said he had uncovered the identities of Anonymous members, and would reveal them at a security conference this week.
The day after the Financial Times piece came out, Barr’s online security began to crumble.
Five members of Anonymous brought down HBGary Federal’s website Sunday. Then they hacked into Barr’s Twitter account — @aaronbarr — and posted his home address, cell-phone and Social Security numbers and a stream of fake and offensive messages.
They also stole 50,000 of Barr’s personal e-mails — now linked to from his Twitter page — as well as his company’s financial records. A Forbes magazine report said Anonymous was planning to erase data on HBGary Federal's servers.
The digital smack-down continued: Anonymous’ foot soldiers went after Barr’s colleagues and his boss, Ted Vera, whose LinkedIn profile name they changed to a homophobic slur.
And in a final display of defiance, Anonymous members decided that rather than squash the 23-page dossier that Barr had compiled containing the group’s secret identities, they would make the document public themselves.
Anonymous posted the document online, and said Barr’s findings were mostly incorrect.
Members of Anonymous have reason to be worried. British authorities arrested five men last month in connection with the WikiLeaks-related attacks, and the FBI executed two dozen searches across the U.S. at the same time.
Anonymous members claimed over the weekend that Barr planned to hand over his list to the FBI, but the dossier itself seems more like an unfinished series of notes than a formal report.
A recent post on Barr’s Twitter page, presumably posted by a member of Anonymous, summed up the situation: “Today we taught everyone a lesson. When we actually decide to bite back against those who try to bring us down, we bite back hard.”
In a conversation with Forbes tech blogger Parmy Olson, Barr said the document leaked by Anonymous was outdated. He admitted he did have a meeting with the FBI scheduled for Monday, but that he didn't know what it was about.
"They called me," he told Olson, adding, "I just feel a bit exhausted by the whole thing."
Around 3 p.m. EST Monday, the Anonymous members who'd taken over Barr's Twitter account announced they'd be giving it back to him — but that "(i)f he doesn't admit defeat in his first Tweet, we're taking it back."
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