Five people aligned with hacktivist collective Anonymous were charged Tuesday with computer hacking and other crimes based on information provided by a ringleader arrested last year, federal officials said.
The suspects are alleged to be members of one or more Anonymous offshoots, including Internet Feds, LulzSec and AntiSec, which have claimed responsibility for denial of service attacks against Web sites and breaking into business and government computer systems in the U.S. and other countries, according to a federal indictment unsealed in New York Tuesday.
The charges stem from hacks of Fox Broadcasting Co., Sony Pictures Entertainment, the Public Broadcasting Service, security company HBGary Federal and other entities.
The case started with the arrest of Hector Xavier Monsegur, 28, of New York, who pleaded guilty in August in U.S. District Court to computer hacking conspiracy and other crimes. Monsegur, known as "Sabu" and a co-founder of LulzSec, pled guilty to charges in the hacks of HBGary, Sony and Fox. He has been co-operating with the FBI for months, federal officials said.
Charges were filed Tuesday against Ryan Ackroyd, 23, Doncaster, U.K.; Jake Davis, 29, Lerwick, U.K.; Darren Martyn, 25, Galway, Ireland; and Donncha O'Cearrbhail, 19, Birr, Ireland. Davis, Ackroyd and O'Cearrbhail have been arrested.
A fifth suspect, Jeremy Hammond, was arrested in Chicago and charged in last year's hack of Strategic Forecasting, an Austin, Texas-based global intelligence firm. That break-in led to the theft of personal information of 860,000 people, according to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York. With the exception of Monsegur, who faces up to 124 years in prison, the other suspects face prison terms of five or 10 years.
Between December 2010 and June 2011, Monsegur and other members of Anonymous, a loose confederation of hackers, took responsibility for a number of cyberattacks, including DoS attacks against the Web sites of Visa, MasterCard and PayPal in retaliation for their refusal to process donations to Wikileaks. The group also took credit for hacks or DoS attacks on foreign government computer systems.
As members of Internet Feds, Ackroyd, Davis, Martyn, O'Cearrbhail and Monsegur conspired to hack the Web site of the Irish political party Fine Gael, HBGary and Fox. In the latter break-in, confidential data related to more than 70,000 potential contestants of the "X-Factor" TV show were taken.
As a result of the publicity from the hacks, the four suspects formed LulzSec. "Like Internet Feds, LulzSec undertook a campaign of malicious cyber assaults on the Web sites and computer systems of various business and governmental entities in the U.S. and throughout the world," federal prosecutors said
As members of LulzSec, the group hacked PBS computer systems for what they perceived to be unfavorable news coverage in an episode of the news program "Frontline," federal prosecutors said. The hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment resulted in the theft of confidential information of 100,000 users of the company's Web site. The group also is believed to have hacked Maryland-based video game company Bethesda Softworks, which had confidential data from 200,000 users stolen.
In the Strategic Forecasting hack, Hammond and unnamed co-conspirators allegedly stole e-mails and account information for 860,000 Stratfor subscribers or clients and credit card numbers of 60,000 people. The credit-card data was used to make unauthorized charges of more than $700,000.
Finally, in January 2012, O'Cearrbhail is believed to have hacked the personal e-mail account of an officer with Ireland's national police service, the An Garda Siochana. The suspect used the information to access and secretly record a Jan. 17 conference call involving international law enforcement and then distributing the recording.