Updated 11:47pm ET Friday
Gawker just published some chat logs purported to be from the virtual 'HQ' of the group Anonymous. The collective is responsible for retaliatory attacks against opponents of WikiLeaks and other acts of "hacktivism" — and is quite possibly associated with the hacking of Gawker itself some months ago.
The leaks were brought to the site by two dissident Anonymous members named who go by the names Metric and A5h3r4, with an additional log supplied by a journalist named Matt Keys. They go just short of outing actual Anonymous members. However, they do point to a heretofore unknown leadership structure, under a tough-talking manager who goes by the handle "Sabu."
For lay people, the logs may hold little interest. The profanity-laced spelling nightmares show hubris: In one instance, they appear to take credit for Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak's departure. The logs also show paranoia — in particular, fear that an operational paper trail may lead to an organized-crime bust.
Gawker contacted the de facto "spokesman" of the group, Barrett Brown (recently interviewed by our own Michael Isikoff). This is what Brown said:
"We're aware of the security breach as other logs from 'HQ' have been posted before (and I should note that HQ is not really HQ anyway — you will note that the actual coordination of performed hacks will not appear in those logs)."
Gawker did not go so far as to identify any unknown members of the group, even though they say they received names. "We couldn't connect the handles to the names provided with any certainty, so we're not publishing them," Gawker's editors explained.
And as for Keys, in a post on his own blog, he does say he was never asked to keep his mouth shut:
"I identified myself as a journalist during my interaction with the top-level Anonymous hackers and at no time did I offer said individuals any agreement of confidentiality. In fact, I asked several of them for their feelings should they be exposed. They seemed, by and large, indifferent."
Still, one can't help but think there's a downside to messing with Anonymous. I'm not sure I'd want to know how low that downside can go.
Update: I just heard from Keys, who says that he knew full well what he was getting into.
"I chose to allow myself to be credited as the source of a piece of information in the Gawker article only to lend credibility to their story, but did so fully understanding the risks," he told me in an email.
As for that downside, he says, "During my two month engagement with their group, I witnessed a lot of what Anonymous can do, from harvesting emails of Amazon.com employees to gaining access to jailbroken iPhones to stealing credit card numbers ... From what I've heard, Anonymous hackers have already gained access to my address and phone number."
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