Jeremy Hammond, the man responsible for the 2011 attack on Strategic Forecasting Inc., better known as Stratfor, pled guilty to his role in the attack and was sentenced on Friday to serve ten years in federal prison. However, Hammond's supporters maintain that his sentencing, indeed the case itself, was unbalanced and rife with problems from the beginning.
In 2011, the AntiSec movement was resurrected in name. Those supporting AntiSec used its name to target governments, law enforcement, and the private businesses that associated with them. One such business was Strategic Forecasting Inc., better known as Stratfor, a firm in Austin, Texas that provides "geopolitical intelligence" to individuals and organizations across the globe. Earlier this past May, Jeremy Hammond admitted that he was responsible for the Stratfor incident as part of a plea agreement reached with the U.S. attorney's office.
In December of 2011, Hammond—encouraged by fellow-AntiSec supporter Hector Xavier Monsegur (a.k.a. Sabu), who was a cooperating witness for the FBI at the time—breached Stratfor's servers, by exploiting a vulnerability in the Plesk management system used to support the company's website.
Once access was granted, Hammond downloaded various archives containing poorly protected email addresses and passwords, and a backup copy of Stratfor's corporate email. Prior to Hammond's involvement, another person compromised Stratfor's credit card processing, and stole some 60,000 records. The breach was made public by AntiSec on December 24, 2011.
Stratfor data released
Hammond admitted that he shared the stolen Stratfor emails (amounting to some 5 million messages) with Wikileaks. However, in addition to the communications shared by Hammond, a list of 860,100 email addresses and passwords were leaked to the public. According to court filings, the 60,000 credit card records that were taken during the incident were used to run up "at least $700,000 worth of unauthorized charges," from December 6, 2011, until early February 2012.
As part of his plea, Hammond admitted to his role in the Stratfor incident in exchange for a reduced possible sentence from 12.5 to 15.5 years, to a single charge that carries a maximum of ten years. Supporters for Hammond had encouraged the judge to be lenient, but instead U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska followed the recommendations of the prosecutors and sentenced him to the maximum term.
After he was fingered by FBI's witness (Monsegur), Hammond's supporters questioned the role the "snitch" played in the case, calling for investigations into the government's actions. In statements made by Hammond, which the court attempted to have redacted, but only after the information had leaked, Monsegur (allegedly on the FBI's behalf) encouraged Hammond to target various organizations and governments as part of the AntiSec movement.
Hammond says that Monsegur encouraged him to use his Plesk exploit, as well as his other skills, to target "numerous foreign government websites in Brazil, Turkey, Syria, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Nigeria, Iran, Slovenia, Greece, Pakistan, and others."
"All of this happened under the control and supervision of the FBI and can be easily confirmed by chat logs the government provided to us pursuant to the government's discovery obligations in the case against me. However, the full extent of the FBI's abuses remains hidden. Because I pled guilty, I do not have access to many documents that might have been provided to me in advance of trial, such as Sabu's communications with the FBI," Hammond wrote.
Adding fuel to the fire, Hammond supporters noted that Judge Preska is married to one of the Stratfor victims, but attempts to have her removed from the case by the defense were not successful. As to the claims that the FBI condoned the attack against Stratfor in order to build a case, as well as encouraged it and other like it, the Department of Justice has previously disputed those claims, and had nothing to say about it on the day Hammond was sentenced.
Detractors say that Hammond got what he deserved, and that his previous criminal convictions warranted his lengthy sentence. In fact, most of those speaking out against Hammond on Twitter simply point to existing law and leave it at that; "...if you don't want to spend 10 years in prison, don't break the law," one person remarked shortly after sentencing was announced.
However, for his part, Hammond knew his actions could, and in all likelihood would, earn him further time behind bars. That didn't deter him from his actions, just as his conviction will fail to deter others in the future.
"Yes I broke the law, but I believe that sometimes laws must be broken in order to make room for change," Hammond told the court on Friday.
With credit for time served, as well as good behavior, Hammond could be released in September 2021.
This story, "Stratfor hacker sentenced" was originally published by CSO.