Twenty-five percent of US hackers are FBI informants, according to an investigative report by The Guardian.
The Guardian’s statistic was actually posited by Eric Corley, publisher of 2600, a quarterly hacker magazine. (Who knew that hackers are so organized that they have their own magazine?)
The Guardian has “established,” via a secret investigation, that numerous hackers have been turned into effective FBI informants. According to Corley, hackers are “rather susceptible to intimidation,” because of the “harsh penalties involved” and their “relative inexperience with the law.”
The newspaper also talked to John Young, who runs Cryptome, a website similar to WikiLeaks. Young agrees with Corley’s depiction of the hacker world, telling The Guardian that there are “dozens and dozens of hackers who have been shopped by people they thought they trusted.”
The Guardian gives the example of Adrian Lamo, a convicted hacker who ratted out Bradley Manning last year. Manning, a US Army intelligence analyst, passed classified documents on to Lamo, who turned around and passed those documents right back to the government. Manning has been in custody for more than a year, and Lamo has been characterized in the hacker community as a “narc.”
Now, it’s not unreasonable — in fact, it’s likely — that the FBI has informants in the hacker community. But 25 percent seems like a rather large and unsubstantiated number — and it is. After all, this is Corley’s rough estimation, and it’s based on his knowledge that hackers are “susceptible to intimidation.”
The Guardian’s article doesn’t go into any depth on the hacker community — how many US hackers exist, for example, or even how it defines the term “hacker.” For example, are we talking about hardcore super-hackers only, or are we including “hacktivist” groups such as Anonymous, whose most epic raids involve getting a lot of people to visit a website? The Guardian does mention Anonymous and other “hacktivist” groups, but only in relation to the recent raids on Sony and InfraGard.
I suppose that’s what will really give credence to The Guardian’s assertions: Lulz Security claimed Sunday that it hacked and defaced the website of the Atlanta chapter of InfraGard, which is affiliated with the FBI. LulzSec reportedly performed the hack in response to the Pentagon’s recent talks about considering cyber attacks “acts of war.”
If 25 percent of US hackers really are turncoats, I expect the FBI will have that whole situation wrapped up within a few days.