HBGary's nemesis is a '16-year-old schoolgirl'
Tales of mystery and imagination
Forbes has bagged an interview with the "teenage girl" who supposedly played a key role in hacking security firm HBGary on behalf of Anonymous.
HBGary Federal earned the enmity of the loosely knit hacker collective by threatening to expose its membership at the B-Sides security conference last month. The security consultancy unwisely publicised the planned move, which followed weeks after members of Anonymous brought down the websites of MasterCard and PayPal in an act of cyber-solidarity/vandalism (take your pick) and in support of WikiLeaks.
However before HBGary execs had the opportunity to spill the beans, Anonymous turned the tables on the small security consultancy, using a variety of website exploits and social engineering tricks to deface its website and extract HBGary's email database, which Anonymous then released as a torrent.
These files contained all sort of embarrassing snippets, including a pitch by HBGary to run a dirty tricks campaign against WikiLeaks on behalf of the Bank of America. Worse still, the files inadvertently revealed one of HBGary's clients – Morgan Stanley – to be a victim of the Operation Aurora attacks in 2009.
The whole episode was hugely amusing, if you weren't involved, and high profile enough for Stephen Colbert to devote a segment of the Colbert Report show to the hack in late January. Soon afterward, HBGary Federal chief exec Aaron Barr resigned in order to draw a line under the whole unfortunate business. Colbert described Barr as a victim of the "global hacker nerd brigade".
A key part of the hack against HBGary involved the impersonation of Barr in an exchange of emails with an IT administrator (Nokia security specialist Jussi Jaakonaho) in order to gain access to HBGary's servers. The hacker, who used social engineering trickery to persuade Jaakonaho to drop security defences and allow in-bound connections, has since identified herself as a 16-year-old girl called Kayla in an interview with Forbes.
Kayla supposedly got into computers at the age of around 14, chiefly because her father is a software engineer. She told Forbes that she had learned the basics quickly and soon began to take an interest in computer security, which led her towards learning how to hack databases. Kayla said she then went on to hack the content management system on 4chan's notorious /b/ channel, the web home of weird smut.
The "youngster" supposedly began hanging around this forum, the birthplace of Anonymous, before joining in on web attacks supported by the free-wheeling group. She told Forbes that her dad knows about her activities and though he "disapproves", he hasn't "done anything about it".
This sounds implausible and the supposed teenager's refusal to talk to Forbes via Skype also appears shifty. Anonymous vouches for Kayla, which is hardly convincing because the group is notorious for pranks almost as much as anything else.
"Kayla" is concerned that the authorities might catch up to her, even though she takes various precautions.
"Each night she wipes every one of her web accounts and deletes every email in her inbox," Forbes reports. "She has no physical hard drive and boots her computer from a microSD card," it adds.
Forbes is careful to put caveats into its story, which makes an interesting yarn if nothing else. As one point the Forbes reporter put it to her interviewee that she is in fact a mid-20s "male from New Jersey named Corey Barnhill" (AKA Xyrix). Not a bit of it, claimed Kayla, I am Xyrix.
Of course you are. How could anyone think differently? ®