After helping disrupt hundreds of attacks, hacker-informant Sabu avoids jail time
Sabu, the hacker who is said to have helped the Federal Bureau of Investigation disrupt some 300 attacks against corporations, the military, and other targets, has been sentenced to time served and one year of probation with computer logging for his previous hacking conviction.
The New York Times reports that Sabu, whose real name is Hector Xavier Monsegur, could have received between 21 and 26 years of jail time for his own hacking activities. The reduced sentence was given after federal prosecutors remarked on the sheer number of attacks stopped by information provided by Monsegur and his help in finding eight "major co-conspirators."
Monsegur was arrested for hacking into the HBGary security firm and subsequently became an informant in 2011. He was affiliated with LulzSec, a group often considered a subset of the Anonymous collective, which has been thought of as a technological boogeyman for a few years. (Sabu has also been speculated to be the "ringleader" of Anonymous, an unproven accusation.)
Anonymous responded to the news of Monsegur's work with the FBI in an open letter in 2012:
Sabu snitched on us. As usually happens FBI menaced him to take his sons away. We understand, but we were your family too (remember what you liked to say?) It's sad and we can't imagine how it feels having to look at the mirror each morning and see there the guy who shopped their friends to [the] police.Reactions from around the Web
Wired explains how Monsegur became an FBI informant in 2011:
According to the document, authorities approached Monsegur at his New York home on June 7, 2011 at which point he needed little convincing to cooperate. He quickly admitted guilt to criminal conduct before he was even charged with any crime and even spilled the beans to authorities about past crimes he had committed for which they had no knowledge of his role.
He admitted, for example, to participating in DDoS attacks against PayPal, MasterCard, and Visa, which were targeted after the companies blocked donations to WikiLeaks. Monsegur also admitted to hacking thousands of computers between 1999 and 2004, engaging in various hacktivism activities as well as carding activity — stealing and selling credit card information for financial gain or to pay off his own bills. He also admitting to selling marijuana, illegally possessing an unlicensed firearm, and purchasing stolen electronics and jewelry.
Motherboard describes the problems created by Monsegur's status as an FBI informant:
It’s a sweet deal for a man who has alienated all of his online friends and became the butt of many meme-generated macros. When it became known Monsegur was an informant, the government had to move Sabu and his family out of the projects due to harassment from the community. This includes his two children, who were stalked by a reporter at school.
The Guardian reports that some critics are concerned about the extent of Monsegur's involvement with the FBI:
As Monsegur begins his year’s supervised release, including close monitoring of his computer use, questions are likely to remain over the nature of his lenient sentence, and particularly his alleged role in spearheading attacks on foreign governments while acting on behalf of the FBI.[Image via Mark Strozier]
Professor Ahmed Ghappour of UC Hastings college of law, an expert in computer law, said it was one thing to help the FBI in a sting operation on perpetrators of a crime already in motion, another “when you contribute to the creation, inducement and execution of a crime that never was. Particularly when those crimes may very well affect our foreign policy.”