Switching sides, hacker helps police

A prolific computer hacker provided invaluable help to law enforcement, switching sides and disrupting hundreds of cyberattacks and preventing millions of dollars in losses.

Risk Management News


A prolific computer hacker provided invaluable help to law enforcement, switching sides and disrupting hundreds of cyberattacks and preventing millions of dollars in losses.

It is a rare good news story, one that brokers should share with their commercial clients as to the ongoing menace that notorious ‘hacktivist’ groups like Anonymous pose to government and business.

Hector Xavier Monsegur had started his criminal career infiltrating the servers of major corporations, later switching sides and helping the U.S. government disrupt hundreds of cyberattacks on Congress, NASA and other sensitive targets, according to federal prosecutors.

New York prosecutors detailed the co-operation of Monsegur for the first time in court papers while asking a judge to reward him with leniency at his sentencing just recently. They credited Monsegur with helping government officials cripple Anonymous, the notorious crew of hacktivists who stole confidential information, defaced websites and temporarily put some victims out of business.

Yesterday the judge sentenced Monsegur to time served for his crimes.

Working with FBI agents at his side, Monsegur "provided, in real time, information about then-ongoing computer hacks and vulnerabilities in significant computer systems,” prosecutors explained to the judge.

The FBI estimates he helped detect at least 300 separate hacks, preventing millions of dollars in losses.

Maia Espejo, the senior professional liability manager of D&O/E&O for Burns & Wilcox Canada, says that brokers would serve their clients well by providing helpful tips to reduce risk and introducing packages that would mitigate damages in the event of an attack. (continued.)

“Any company with web-based servers should be tested frequently,” says Espejo. “Have the IT department perform automated scans of the web servers on a monthly to semi-monthly basis. Smaller companies should enlist the help of an external IT firm to assist with the testing.”

After his arrest and guilty plea in 2011, Monsegur had been facing more than two decades behind bars. But because of his co-operation, the judge sentenced him to time served.

Court papers say Monsegur first began hacking in a Manhattan apartment in the early 2000s. His aim then was to steal credit card information, then sell it or use it to pay his own bills.

In a 2011 interview with an online magazine, Monsegur said he decided to join forces with Anonymous because he was upset over the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

“I'm just doing what I know how to do, and that is counter abuse,” he said.

Starting in early 2011 and using the alias Sabu, Monsegur led an Anonymous splinter group called Lulz Security, or LulzSec, which hacked computer systems of Fox television, Nintendo, PayPal and other businesses, stole private information and then bragged about it online. The group was loosely affiliated with Jeremy Hammond, the FBI's most wanted cybercriminal whose stated objective was to cause mayhem with the attacks, prosecutors said. (continued.)

When FBI agents showed up at his home in the summer of 2011, Monsegur immediately agreed to co-operate, giving the FBI a tutorial on the inner-workings and participants of LulzSec and Anonymous, prosecutors said. Under their direction, he “convinced LulzSec members to provide him digital evidence of the hacking activities" and "asked seemingly innocuous questions that... could be used to pinpoint their exact locations and identities,” according to court papers.

Reports that Monsegur was co-operating made him a pariah in the Anonymous movement, said prosecutors. Hackers began posting personal information about him, and he was even approached on the street and threatened.

The harassment became severe enough that the FBI relocated Monsegur and some of his family.


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