The revelation yesterday that "Sabu," one of the best-known figures in the LulzSec hacking group, had been an FBI informant for several months was accompanied by the arrests of five colleagues. But it's not clear if Sabu's betrayal will have any impact on the greater Anonymous hacktivist movement.
"It was LulzSec that was responsible for most of the high-profile Anonymous attacks last year, so their arrest will certainly reduce Anonymous' news value," said Robert Graham, founder and CEO of Atlanta cybersecurity firm Errata Security. "But at the same time, they were more of an offshoot rather than the driving force behind Anonymous. Thus, Anonymous will continue as it did before LulzSec came along."
The Jester, aka "th3j35t3r," a well-known patriotic American hacker who's knocked several Islamic fundamentalist websites offline, disagrees that Anonymous can continue as before.
"I think it is the beginning of the end," the Jester said in a private exchange. "They time and time again prove that their 'business model' is flawed. There is a core, then just a herd of ‘sheeple,’ romanticizing that they are part of something big. The core has been ripped out."
The arrest of Sabu, whose identity was confirmed yesterday as Hector Xavier Monsegur, leaves Anonymous without any prominent leaders. But messages to carry on could easily be found online yesterday and today, and Anonymous attacks brought down the Vatican website and defaced sites belonging to a Spanish digital security company.
"Anonymous will continue fighting for freedom in the world, but we also understand that people around the world should stand up and claimed by what is right," said a posting on the AnonOps Communications blog. "Suggestion to the FBI: Maybe you should spend a little less time pursuing Anonymous and put more effort into bringing to justice the white-collar criminals who crashed the economy in 2008 and 2011."
Monsegur, a 28-year-old father of two living in public housing in New York's Alphabet City, was first arrested on June 11. By mid-August, he had pleaded guilty to several charges and was actively cooperating with the FBI to track down his unsuspecting comrades.
According to his federal indictment, Monsegur was more skilled than most Anonymous hackers, with the ability to break into tightly guarded servers such as those at the security firm HBGary and Fox Broadcasting, as well as servers running websites belonging to the governments of Tunisia, Yemen and Zimbabwe.
The Jester thinks that there won't be a shortage of capable hackers willing to step into Monsegur's shoes.
"I am sure there's a lot of stupid foolish people vying for the top position," he said. "Can't wait."
The wildly successful HBGary hack of February 2011, which revealed that the firm was trying to sell its own hacking tools to the U.S. government, led to the creation of LulzSec as an elite offshoot of Anonymous in early May 2011. It had less than a dozen members, among them Jake Davis, aka "Topiary," and Ryan Ackroyd, aka "Kayla," two Britons who were arrested yesterday.
Graham thinks that as long as the Anonymous members stay anonymous to each other, the movement has a good chance of surviving.
"Few know each other's real-life identities," he said. "Thus, most of Anonymous will feel safe, even in the face of betrayal."
For 50 days, LulzSec had fun, breaking into the website of the U.S. Senate, knocking the CIA website offline, defacing the PBS website to proclaim that slain rapper Tupac Shakur was alive and well and even taking requests for the next site to attack.
On Twitter, Topiary provided witty commentary; Sabu, always more political, egged on the greater Anonymous movement to more attacks.
On June 24, about the time LulzSec decided to end its run, Sabu tweeted defiantly, "You know what's the joke on everyone? If we simply changed our pseudonyms we essentially disapear. You're all chasing ghosts."