Who is the mystery sixth member of LulzSec?
And, hang on, what happened to all the loot...
Analysis Thursday's sentencing of three core members of hacktivist crew LulzSec and an accomplice hacker who gave them access to a botnet closes an important chapter in the history of activism. But it also leaves a number of questions unanswered.
One of the most interesting of these puzzlers is the identity of the mysterious sixth member of the group.
LulzSec was a constant feature of the information security headlines in May-June 2011 during its "50 days of Lulz" when it attacked Fox, PBS, Sony, Nintendo, Sega, FBI-affiliated security outfits such as Infragard and HB Gary Federal, the US Senate, the Arizona State Police, the CIA and the UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency.
Most targets were entertainment firms opposing file-sharing, information security outfit, or law enforcement agencies. Tactics ran from basic website-flooding attacks to defacement and site redirection. In several cases the group published stolen data from compromised websites.
The motive of the group was described by prosecutors in a London sentencing hearing this week as "anarchic self-amusement" rather than anything profit-motivated. In truth filthy lucre does play a part in the story of LulzSec, even though the overriding driver appeared in several cases to be the chance for the accused to play rock-star black-hat hackers on a global stage, sticking two fingers up to The Man.
LulzSec had six core members: The first four were Topiary aka Jake Davis (@aTopiary), UK; T-Flow, aka Mustafa Al-Bassam (@let_it_tflow), UK; Kayla, aka Ryan Ackroyd (@lolspoon), UK; Sabu, aka Hector Monsegur (@anonymouSabu), US.
The other two, according to the US Attorney's Office and the FBI indictment, were Pwnsauce, named as Darren Martyn (@_pwnsauce), Ireland; and AVunit (@AvunitAnon), whose identity is unknown.
Three suspects were sentenced in London's Southwark Crown Court on Thursday. Jake Davis, 19, of Lerwick, Shetland received a 24-month sentence in a young offenders' institute, of which he'll serve half.
Ryan Ackroyd, 26, of Mexborough, Doncaster, received a 30-month sentence. Providing he behaves himself, he'll serve only 15 months. Mustafa Al-Bassam, 18, from Peckham, south London, got a 20-month sentence, suspended for two years, as well as 300 hours of community work. Al-Bassam avoided jail because of he was underage and still at school at the times of his offences.
Ryan Cleary (AKA Viral), 21, of Wickford, Essex, was found to have supplied a botnet of around 100,000 compromised computers that acted as a platform for LulzSec to blitz targeted websites. He was not a core member of the group but was prosecuted in the same case and ultimately received the most severe punishment of all the accused: a 32-month prison sentence.
Extradition 'not anticipated'
The quartet was investigated in a joint operation by the Metropolitan Police's Central e-Crime Unit and the FBI. In a statement welcoming the sentencing, Scotland Yard explained that each member of the group had a clearly defined role.
Ackroyd was responsible for researching and executing many of their hacks, Cleary assisted by allowing the use of his botnet - a system of malware-infected computers he controlled - to coordinate DDoS attacks. Al-Bassam assisted in discovering and exploiting online vulnerabilities, and also created and controlled LulzSec's website. Davis was their spokesperson, managing their Twitter account and press releases.
Karen Todner, Cleary's solicitor (and managing director of the law firm who represented McKinnon), issued a statement on Thursday saying they "do not anticipate" that he will become the subject of a US extradition request. Davis has also been indicted in the US but early reports suggest its unlikely that US authorities will seek his extradition.
The alleged ringleader of LulzSec, US-based Hector Xavier Monsegur - known online as "Sabu" - agreed to act as an informant following his arrest in June 2011, according to the FBI. The Feds said that Monsegur had helped them to identify other members of the group and other hackers.
Monsegur frequently acted as the group's ideologue as well as directing attack campaigns. He was the midfield play-maker in a group that was nominally leaderless. He has already pleaded guilty to 12 counts of hacking, bank fraud, and identity theft and will be sentenced in August.
Darren Martyn (Pwnsauce) 26, of Galway, Ireland, was indicted in March 2012 for conspiring with other LulzSec members to attack Fox Broadcasting Company, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and the Public Broadcasting Service. He also allegedly hacked into the website of Fine Gael, a political party in Ireland. He's yet to be tried.
That all means that four of the six core members of LulzSec have been caught, and police have indicted a fifth man whom they suspect of being number five, but the identity of Avunit remains a mystery, presumably even to Sabu or other members of the group who might have given him up in the hope of receiving a lesser sentence.
"We have no idea who Avunit is," writes Mikko Hypponen, CRO at Finnish anti-virus firm F-Secure. "We have no identity. We don't even know which continent he is from."
The Guardian published leaked logs from LulzSec's main IRC channel in late June 2011. The six appeared prominently in these discussions as well an FBI indictment against Monsegur unsealed months later.
Digital sleuthing by various parties – most notably BackTrace Security and patriots hacker The Jester (th3j35t3r) – led to the public fingering of Monsegur as Sabu. Monsegur was far from the only person named as Sabu - The Jester previously named an innocent Portuguese web designer as a suspect, for example (he later apologised for his error). Pastebin was full of various documents giving multiple "identities" and background details for supposed members of LulzSec and Anonymous for months during 2011. It's doubtful if any of these clues would provide useful leads towards Avunit's real identity.
Police latched onto Monsegur, an unemployed 28-year-old from New York, after he made the mistake of logging into an IRC chat server used by LulzSec without using the Tor anonymisation service - and just days after LulzSec had attacked the Feds.
This lead allowed the FBI to request IP address records from ISPs in order to track down Monsegur's location to a flat he shared with two nieces on Manhattan's Lower East Side, as The Guardian explains in more depth here.
As well as the core, founder members of LulzSec, several alleged hackers got involved later and went on to play key roles in LulzSec-related ops or those involving the later AntiSec movement, which sought to expose and lambast the poor security of IT security and intelligence outfits after Lulzsec officially disbanded.
Donncha O’Cearrbhail (AKA palladium), 19, of Birr, Ireland, allegedly taped a conference call between law enforcement officers on both sides of the Atlantic discussing investigations against members of Anonymous that was leaked by the hacktivist collective back in February 2012. He is also charged over the LulzSec-run attacks against Fox Broadcasting Company, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and the Public Broadcasting Service as well as the Fine Gael hack.
Cody Kretsinger, 25, from Decatur, Illinois - better known to his fellow LulzSec cohorts as "Recursion" - was jailed for a year in April for hacking into Sony Pictures Entertainment's computer systems after earlier pleading guilty to the attack.
Last month, Australian Federal Police arrested Matthew Flannery, 24, from Sydney, Australia. Flannery (Aush0k) subsequently said he was "in charge" of LulzSec, a claim doubted by many. So far he has been linked only to a hack attack against a small Australian local government website.
Another hacking suspect – Jeremy Hammond (AKA Anarchaos), 27, of Chicago, Illinois – was arrested on access device fraud and hacking charges in March 2012, and is suspected of playing the central role in the Anonymous hack on security intelligence outfit Stratfor in December 2011.
This was an AntiSec and not a LulzSec operation. But Monsegur, by this time apparently acting as an FBI snitch, tried to persuade the hackers who carried out the raid to store emails looted from Stratfor on a server controlled by the Feds. Information coaxed out of Hammond by Monsegur led directly to Hammond's arrest, the FBI said.
WikiLeaks began publishing emails from Stratfor in February 2012 to expose "how a private intelligence agency works, and how they target individuals for their corporate and government clients".
The whistleblowing site declined to explain how it came by the "Global Intelligence Files" but the dates covered by the emails - from July 2004 to late December 2011 - are consistent with the hacktivists' ransacking of Stratfor back in December 2011.
Another interesting unanswered question, raised by Charles Arthur in The Guardian, is what become of the Bitcoins that LulzSec invited supporters to donate to the cause at the height of their infamy.
At the time each Bitcoin was worth between $6 and $10, and Davis estimated that the group had about $18,000 donated by its supporters. At current prices those funds would be worth 10 times more, or around $180,000. The coins were initially held in multiple wallets but have since been transferred into a single wallet, Hypponen told The Guardian, suggesting that a single person might control the stash.
If we were tying the loose ends of a crime novel, we would assign Avunit the role of custodian of this stash, on behalf of his former partners in crime. But since LulzSec's members never met except online - at least until many of them were put together in a UK court dock this week - and never knew each others' identities, this idea is perhaps fanciful. ®